Always We Begin Again

st ben begin again

“Always we begin again.” –St. Benedict

I just started my 39th semester of teaching.  I love the “beginning again” that comes with the teaching profession.  Two of my favorite things about teaching are discovering new ways to share the love of learning with students and the chance to start the next semester with a clean slate. Fresh ideas, new teaching strategies, another opportunity to grow and learn and improve—and hoping a little of that rubs off on my students. I want to make a difference and help students learn.

I think I’m still learning that I will never get it just right. I will never be perfect. But I love that I can be creative each day, trying new things, forgiving myself for what doesn’t work and starting over again the next day, week or semester.

 It’s a good reminder for everyday life as well.  So often in our relationships we carry the mistakes, hurts, expectations and fears into our next day; never really giving others, or ourselves, a chance to begin again.

What if we could truly give ourselves and others a clean slate? A fresh start?

What if we really could be merciful…compassionate, gentle, loving, understanding, kind, accepting, giving, patient, forgiving INSTEAD OF cold-hearted, impatient, irritated, withholding, reluctant, hard, thoughtless, self-centered, judgmental?

Being merciful means allowing ourselves and others the chance to begin again. How do we get there…to being more merciful?

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This year, Pope Francis  has declared a Jubilee or Holy Year of Mercy. He believes we need a  “revolution of tenderness”—between nations and in our personal relationships.

revolution4“How much I desire that the year to come will be steeped in mercy, so that we can go out to every man and woman, bringing the goodness and tenderness of God,” he wrote. He believes it is time for the Church to show her motherly face to a humanity that is wounded.”

What powerful images Pope Francis brings to this word we all too often use, but do not understand or practice: MERCY. A chance to begin again.

For Christmas, I wanted to create a SoulCollage® card for my monk friends at Christ the King Priory that represented the season. I gathered images that seemed Christmas-y and tried to bring them into unity on a card.  But it just wasn’t working; images that called to me instead kept saying MERCY. So I went with it. I let the word and idea of mercy flow over me and into the creation. The process of creating was prayerful and inspired and joyful. The card and words that follow are the result:

mercy

A gesture, an embrace, a tender gaze
Lays bare every vein, wrinkle, pore and blade.
In the Light, transparent and humbled,
We are seen, truly seen.

Despite our failures and flights,
Doors of mercy open to
Eternal love made visible. 

Pope Francis believes, “The most important thing in the life of every man and every woman is not that they should never fall along the way, the important thing is always to get back up.”

May we take this word and image, MERCY, into our year and our lives. The doors are always open for us to begin again. We are received just as the Prodigal Son was received, with open and forgiving arms. The image of the Prodigal Son, created by Rembrandt, communicates both the motherly and fatherly qualities of a God who welcomes us all home. It conveys all of the qualities of mercy that we hope to receive and can 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.

Each new day is a new day.  Always we begin again.

SoulFully You: 2015 in Review

Happy New Year from SoulFully You!butterfly no logo Thank you for subscribing to and sharing my posts during 2015. Your comments and feedback have been encouraging.

Thanks to you, SoulFully You was viewed 6200 times by over 2500 readers in 39 countries during 2015. Readers have found SoulFully You through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SoulCollage, Becoming Minimalist, Jumping Tandem, Abbey of the Arts, St. Benedict Center and Google. It’s been a serendipitous blessing to connect with people around the world and to stumble upon new readers in my hometown, Lincoln, Nebraska.

SoulFully You, the name of this blog /hobby/ business/vocation /passion /endeavor is about my own pursuit of a creative, spiritual  and authentic life and my desire to accompany others on that journey. It’s about listening and praying and living a creative, purposeful, passionate life.

It’s about becoming SoulFully You. So thank you for accompanying me.DSC_0323a

There is no formula for what and when I share. There are no strategically-planned weekly posts (who would want notifications or email from me every week?). It may seem a little haphazard to the reader (and even within the writer, ha!), but it’s important for me to wait for inspiration and to listen for guidance about what to write; to be soulful about what I share.  I know when it feels right; and I know when it feels forced or unnatural. I’m not going to “leap ahead of grace” (quoting Sr. Helen Prejean) when it comes to SoulFully You.

SoulFully You, the blog, was birthed to connect with others who find DSC_0730SoulCollage® a creative and prayerful form of self-expression and to share information about retreats and workshops. 

But it has transformed into something more for me: a way to reflect, grow spirituality and express myself creatively. Both words (writing/reading) and images (SoulCollage®) resonate with me; I surrender to the synergy that is greater than either practice alone; I listen and learn and follow my intuition.   I write about what I am passionate about, often prompted through SoulCollage®I am one who” statements; send it out into the universe; and hope that it resonates with a few people.  I have faith that what I create will be a spark of light for the right people, at the right time.

WordPress, the blog platform used for SoulFully You, prepares an annual report, basically a report card, for every blog they host. The cool thing is that it’s just about my blog…no comparisons, no goal setting, no pressure to increase blog traffic…just a good old-fashioned report. It honors what IS and I appreciate that. 

According to WordPress, the top 5 posts on SoulFully You were:

1. Giving up to Gain: Selling, Decluttering and the 68506

2. It’s About Time We Start Sharing the Same Breath

3. Selling Our House: Surrender to Surprise

4. Decluttering: Taking Off the Top Layer

5.  A Picture Can Reveal the Soul: Using Images in the Classroom

Decluttering and selling our house was a defining element of 2015. Writing about it was tonic, and accountability, for the soul…and it seemed to have resonated with others–Google search brings a new reader almost daily for those posts. I haven’t written about our move (and the downstairs storage room that affirms the decluttering process as yet unfinished), but I hope to bring this theme back to life in 2016…life just got complicated during the process.

In the midst of moving to a temporary dwelling while our new house was finished, my mother-in-law (pictured) became ill, was hospitalized for several weeks and then suddenly passed away.

Our hearts are broken. Perhaps the greatest stress and loss in our lives, combined with sending our senior-in-college daughter to Washington DC for an internship, IMG_8622starting a new school year myself and then finally moving for the last time, has thrown us into survival mode for the second half of 2015. Lots of tasks are still on the list of things-to-do.

Creating and writing about other topics has been helpful and healing, but likely a bit of avoidance as well. I hope to write about my mother-in-law when the time feels right. In the meantime writing and reflecting about spirituality and Soul Collage®, creativity and country drives, friends and family has been a balm for my soul.

Some of my favorite 2015 posts

love and marriageSome of my favorite posts are about my husband and daughter. Joe and I celebrated 30  years of marriage this year and Jessica is just one semester away from being a college graduate.  See A Marriage Made of Moments and Jessica Becoming.

Driving country roads is contemplative prayer for me. I get lost in the beauty and I know I am in the presence of God. See Country Road Contemplative (also shared on Abbey of the Arts Monk in the World guest blog), The Same Two Trees, The Grandeur of God, Signs on Country Roads.

Using SoulCollage® to honor and remember friends and family is not just an option for me….I have to, I am compelled. This year I created cards and wrote about Cece, a grandma collageneighbor who was like a grandma to us (See Cece: A Snow Day Reflection); my own grandma Helen Blazek (pictured) and what I learned about faith from her (See Images of Faith); and about my friend Judy, part of our Circle (See Circle of Friends), who also passed away in 2015.

Reading “Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are” by Deidra Riggs was a surreal experience. Being neighbors by chance, and having as much in common as different, brought the exciting opportunity to be on the launch team for her first (and likely not last) book. (See It’s About Time We Start Sharing the Same Breath and Every Little Thing).

And of course, writing and reflecting on the power of images and creativity is my afavorite topic to write about–in my job as a teacher, in my spiritual life, leading retreats (especially Full Moon retreats!) and in reflecting on nature and the environment. (See We are Moons, Not Suns; Living in the Fullness of God; Praying with Scissors; Why I Teach; Earth Gratitude; We are Made in the Image of God;  A Picture Can Reveal The Soul)

Some of the topics I hope to write about in 2016 are Benedictine spirituality (including obedience, stability and conversion of life….and what all of that really means for a “monk in the world“), Lectio and Visio Divina prayer practice, creating and reflecting on Community Suit (friends and family) SoulCollage cards®, being a Catholic-Come-Home, the on-going decluttering process and using SoulCollage® to celebrate Earth Day! Whatever it is, I shall wait for the Divine nudge and then hit PUBLISH. We’ll see how it goes.

Thank you for following SoulFully You! May 2016 bring you joy, reflection, peace, creativity and love!  Blessings, Jodi

For the official WordPress report card, see link below.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

SoulFully You 2015 in Blogging Annual Report

 

A Great Light Has Come Upon the Earth

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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

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.

The Same Two Trees

The same two trees   ~   different direction, distance, angle, lens  ~ a different result, image, perspective, outcome.  ~   So many ways to see    ~  the same two trees.

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The calm quiet strength of a tree
Anchored deep in the earth
Reaching high in the sky
The calm quiet strength of a tree

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The calm quiet strength of a tree
Full of life from its roots
To the tiniest branch
The calm quiet strength of a tree

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And oh, how it comforts me
How it teaches me
Without a sound
Then I realize at once
That this tree and I are one
In eternity

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The calm quiet strength of a tree
From the weight of its trunk
To its delicate leaves
The calm quiet strength of a tree

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The calm quiet strength of a tree
Showing anyone near
All the secrets of time
The calm quiet strength of a tree

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Poem: Copyright 1994 Tom Splitt

Photos: Copyright 2015 Jodi Blazek Gehr

Every Little Thing!

Little things matter. A bunch of little things can make a difference, especially if it’s all the candy we eat in the weeks leading up to and following Halloween, which bumps into the weeks leading up to and following Thanksgiving…and then there’s all the Christmas parties… you get the idea. All the fun-sized, little snacks and treats can just plain add up on the scale.  Little things matter.

But little things can add up unexpectedly in big and good ways, too. The little things we do to take care of our physical, emotional and spiritual health can make a difference. The peaceful inhale and exhale of a contemplative prayer or meditation practice can sustain us when times are stressful. The little things we do for others can give comfort or show appreciation.

There are lots of little ways to make a big difference in the lives of people that we work, play and live with.

My former neighbor and friend, Deidra Riggs, wrote a book called Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are. Deidra found herself living in Nebraska, having moved here for her husband’s job, but not liking it one bit. Right where she was, was not where she wanted to be.

I started planning my escape. I wanted out. Not through. As far as I could tell, Nebraska was the very worst place to live in all the world”, she writes. Continue reading “Every Little Thing!”

Images of Faith: My Grandma and the Sacred Heart of Jesus

Images are so powerful. They tap into the pool of memories, both personal and universal, that are deep within us. One image can be understood in so many ways—for different people, faiths and cultures or for the same person over time.

Today when the Sacred Heart of Jesus popped out at me in my Facebook news feed, memories of my grandma came flooding back. sacred heart of jesus 1

She had a framed image of the Sacred Heart between her living room and her kitchen. As a young child, I remember wondering why the heart had fire Continue reading “Images of Faith: My Grandma and the Sacred Heart of Jesus”

Living in the Fullness of God

Seeking solitude and quiet, I was drawn to an advertisement in the Lincoln journey to fullnessJournal-Star—“This retreat in the style of Zen involves breath practice.  In contemplative prayer, we divest our minds of all thoughts and images in order to receive the pure and simple light of God directly into the summit of our souls.”  Breathing as prayer.  Experiencing God directly.  These words spoke to me; they held promise.

That was in Continue reading “Living in the Fullness of God”

Why I Teach

Childhood Dreams

As early as kindergarten, I identified teacher as a potential
occupation
in my “School Years” book, a collection of elementary school Kindergarten teachermemories. My kindergarten-self chose nurse, teacher, model and mother as possible career and life choices, although the options were limited to traditional girl-jobs only. (I’ve wondered why I didn’t dare to select baseball player or astronaut. Was it because those jobs did not interest me or did I not consider the boy-jobs? Or why were airline hostess and secretary NOT of interest to me?) Female stereotypes aside, by fourth grade, I had wisely eliminated model and nurse (yuk and yuk!!), leaving teacher and mother.fourth grade

I was interested in learning and teaching as soon as I was old enough to work my way through phonics, spelling and math workbooks, just for fun. And then creating worksheets and math problems, grading spelling quizzes and making lesson plans became my childhood joys. My brother was my first student and I worked him pretty hard. I remember taking the graded assignments I’d given him to my fourth grade teacher, proudly showing her what I was helping him accomplish outside of school hours. Rather than receiving the anticipated (and sought-after) praise, she promptly told me I should back off and not force him to be my student anymore or he might hate school—my first humbling opportunity at professional self-reflection.

BooksLaura Ingalls Wilder was my childhood heroine. Pioneer girl turned teacher; wide-open prairie sky and her own classroom, from Little House on the Prairie to These Happy Golden Years —I wanted to BE Laura. I admired her sense of self-confidence and independence, how she encouraged students to overcome learning challenges, many not much younger than she. (I am such a huge fan of Laura Ingalls Wilder that when my daughter could barely read I bought the entire book series,  picture books and television movies for her and also road-tripped to Mansfield, Missouri to see the house where Laura penned all of the Little House books. Quite a thrill!)

All the evidence indicates that, if I wasn’t born with the desire to teach, the passion was stirring when I was very young.  Continue reading “Why I Teach”

Just float…Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream

When you feel like you’re sinking, just float.

Lie back and rest.

You will be held.

float struggleMade in the image of God, we are created to create. We are meant to DO something with what we are given—our ideas, our talents and our dreams. God planted them within us for a reason. They are conceived without our knowing, but we sense it. Something is happening within us and we must take notice. Continue reading “Just float…Gently down the stream, Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, Life is but a dream”

A picture can reveal the soul: Using images in the classroom

The soul never thinks without a picture. –Aristotle

Or, as I’ve come to learn, a picture can reveal the soul.

As a high school teacher, I work with teenage students every day…but it’s not every day I see into their soul.  The past few years I’ve started using images in the classroom as a springboard to journaling, inspired by practicing SoulCollage® and using the Growing Leaders Habitude® book series. Continue reading “A picture can reveal the soul: Using images in the classroom”

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