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.
“And if God sees fit to hold me
Anyone that’s ever known me
Know I’d walk the gold streets only
In a pair of red shoes.”
My friend, Colleen, loved red shoes. But I didn’t know this about her until her Aunt Bea shared a story at her funeral.
What a silly thing to say at a funeral, but for “some reason” I told Bea that I loved the beautiful red shoes she had on. Sometimes things fly out of my mouth without any consideration to how they might sound—and today was no exception. But, of course, there was a reason.
Aunt Bea immediately connected the shoes to Colleen. Just a few months earlier, Colleen had borrowed those red shoes on an evening when she and her sisters were going out dancing, something they loved to do together. Aunt Bea commented how much Colleen loved to dance; telling us that Colleen believed when you dance you have to wear high-heeled shoes. It was a nice story of when Colleen was joyful and doing what she loved most—dancing. There is comfort in storytelling and remembering.
There was lots of storytelling that day. I had only known Colleen a few years, so it was wonderful to hear about the growing-up Colleen. One of Colleen’s former high school classmates shared how Colleen always did the craziest things—that she loved to wear wild hats and she insisted on wearing red shoes with her First Communion dress when she was just a young child. Seriously, red shoes?!!
This seemed no coincidence to me that I heard two stories from two different people about Colleen loving red shoes. Of course, my first thought was of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz and how it was her red shoes that got her home. This became a wonderful image for me to remember Colleen by—she was at home now, dancing with joy in her red shoes! It was a special treat, sometime later that our friend, Joyce, and I saw that First Communion photo at her parent’s home—rows of little girls in white dresses and white shoes, and Colleen in red. I love so much that her mother, Charlotte, let her wear those red shoes.
The red shoes stories are little miracles to me—touch points for remembering Colleen.
Knowing Colleen felt like a miracle from the moment we met (at a silent meditation retreat…but, oh my, could we talk up a storm!) but these divine coincidences continue to happen even 14 years after her passing. They come in dreams or conversations, images or stories—Colleen is ever-present.
Every year on Colleen’s birthday, I share some of that story in a blog post. My mind, heart, and spirit are especially with Colleen this day, remembering. I get a message from Jeff, her husband, who shares one of the last photos of her when her hair was long. He remembers too. There are happy and sad tears, as music from the Grammy Awards plays in the background. And then…
This song came on.
Red Shoes by Dolly Parton
“I remember as a child / I was absolutely wild / ‘Bout some red shoes that my aunt Lucy wore / She would let me stomp around / In those high heels up and down / ‘Round the house and ’round the wraparound porch
And from that moment on / I’ve had a pair of my own / They make me feel at home and brand new / They build my confidence / As if they’ve been heaven sent / I feel alone, I’m puttin’ on my red shoes
I begged mama, “Pretty please / From the wishbook order me / A pair of red shoes for my feet”, so mama did / Through the years I’ve thought about / Aunt Lucy’s love and think of how / Such little things in life can make or break a kid
I believe that every child
Needs to feel a sense of pride
And someone to love and guide and see them through
So many miles I’ve traveled
Many times they’ve come unraveled
On the road both smooth or gravel
But I’ve made it through, ooh
Hell and half of Georgia / Or walkin’ through New Orleans Walk the streets of Memphis bowlin’ / Stroll around a block or two And if God sees fit to hold me / Anyone that’s ever known me Know I’d walk the gold streets only / In a pair of red shoes
And if I ever get to heaven And Lord I hope I do I will walk the streets of glory I will tell my Lucy story And walk with her in red shoes
Colleen continues to bring her light in the world through little miracles….and how can I not believe that she is dancing for joy on streets of gold in her red shoes!
Dear Super Blue Full Moon behind the clouds, I know you are there even when I can’t see you, just like my loved ones who have passed on.
On this night of the Super Blue Full Moon (that I am sure is happening behind the clouds), I am reminded of a very special Full Moon experience eight years ago (thanks to Facebook memories…how else would I remember?)
Eight years ago tonight, a six-year vision came full circle when my friend, Joyce, and I facilitated a retreat for some special friends. It was a dream we had from the beginning. We wanted to create a safe place for women to share their spiritual journey—we called it our Circle. We wanted to reach out to other women, to share our passion for seeking God and experiencing the Divine in our everyday life.
It didn’t happen quite the way we expected. Our friend, Colleen, was a part of our journey as well. But Colleen had some demons that we were unaware of. When she took her life, we wondered—what kind of spiritual support group are we? How could this happen? How could our spiritual, compassionate, beautiful friend not want to continue this journey?
This, too, was part of our spiritual journey—the grief, questions, doubt, hurt, anger. But we shared it all together. When we came out the other end of healing (if that is really even possible), we knew we needed to have the retreat that we had all envisioned.
After several years, we did. I am grateful for the women who joined us on the journey— on that first retreat and also as part of our Circle that still meets monthly.
I’ve continued to lead retreats using the name SoulFully You. It’s been such a gift to introduce others to the many ways to pray, especially using creativity and the power of images through the SoulCollage® process.
“When we embrace our creative spirits and learn to express ourselves creatively, we feel inspired and alive. Creative and passionate expression is essential to the feminine soul. Sometimes our creative fires get turned down, burn a little low, and even smolder, but the sparks can be rekindled and ignited.”— Moon Mother, Moon Daughter Janet Lucy and Terri Allison
I thank God for the sparks in my life, my Circle, my friends. My eternal gratitude belongs to Colleen, whose idea it was in the first place to start a Circle. Her spirit lives on. We are a Circle that has no end.
“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. I am not so sure, then, that we so much find a friend as it is that friendship, the deathless search of the soul for itself, finds us.” The Friendship of Women, Joan Chittister
Dear Super Blue Full Moon behind the clouds, I know you are there even when I can’t see you, just like my loved ones who have passed on.
There are layers of history in Rome—“layers like lasagna”—one tour guide suggested. Literally, layers were built on top of layers, buildings that had been destroyed by war and natural disaster were covered with dirt and new buildings were erected over ruins. Symbolically, many Christian churches were built over ancient pagan sites.
The architecture, art, and religious history communicate something spiritual, a deeper story with layers of meaning, like lasagna. I’ll share some of my favorite places, and the journey, from my trip to Rome to attend the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates:
St. Peter’s Basilica and the Scavi tour
On my first morning in Rome, I had scheduled a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Scavi tour of the necropolis beneath, including St. Peter’s tomb. My plan was to have a taxi drop me off where I needed to be to start the tour for a stress-free morning, no need for coat and umbrella, and no need to hurry. Where I thought I could find a taxi, there were none; where a distracted police officer pointed, there were none. A little nervous, I decided I should just start walking in the general direction of the Vatican or I may not get there in time. Surely, I would see the large dome and signs along the way. There were none.
I remember that the Vatican was just to the left of the Tiber River as it changes directions. With this vague idea, I set off on a lovely tree-lined path along the Tiber River. The views were beautiful—this will be just fine, I say to myself, I have plenty of time.Getting a little chilly, but I’ll be there soon. The online map said a 45-minute walk. Oops, a few sprinkles, a few more. Darn it, why didn’t I bring the umbrella I had packed?
I reach the point where the Vatican should be but I see no less than six different options to take; I see no dome and no signs. In panic mode now, with it getting colder and sprinkling more, I ask a woman, “Where is the Vatican?” Mind you, I had asked one young couple who responded, “In hurry, no time” and another woman who circled herself saying, “hmmm” whom I decided not to trust for accurate directions, but this woman—she is my angel. “No English. I take you,” she said. Oh, thank God.
She takes me a few blocks to the intersection where I finally see St. Peter’s Basilica (and its dome. Who knew the Vatican was surrounded by other tall buildings? Not what I had pictured.) I have finally arrived, yet I still need to walk several blocks in light rainfall, so I duck into a little storefront outside of St. Peter’s Square and buy an umbrella. Better safe, than sorry, I think.
Thirty seconds later, new umbrella overhead, I experienced the hardest rainfall I’ve ever walked in (outside of the time I got lost in Munich, Germany …. hmmm, seems to be an international pattern). I arrive at the gate of the Swiss Guard in plenty of time to stand in the cold and rain for at least 30 more minutes before the tour began. Still, I am grateful I walked. I learned, and saw, much more than I would have had I been delivered directly to St. Peter’s Square. There are layers of meaning when you surrender to the journey.
The tour was quite amazing, but I was most struck by the case the guide built throughout the tour that the Basilica was indeed constructed over St. Peter’s tomb. The area beneath St. Peter’s Basilica was only discovered in the 1940s and during excavation, archaeologists found a 4th-century burial ground and a grave marked with ancient lettering translated, “Peter is here”. I was so touched by the reverence our guide showed letting each individual participant have a few moments to privately view the site. It was a moment for the heart to remember only; no photos were permitted on the tour. Nearby the guide pointed out an elaborate grate in the ceiling—directly above, one could hear the prayers and responses of a Mass in progress in the Basilica. For centuries, what laid below was hidden. This faith, built on a grave, has layers of meaning, like lasagna.
I had plenty of time to explore the Basilica and its side chapels in quiet solitude when I went on my own, but on the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates group tour we learned some of the symbolism behind the artwork, altars, and relics from a guide. I learned the bronze statue of St. Peter holding the keys of heaven was a pilgrimage itself—for centuries pilgrims touched or kissed his right foot, literally wearing it thin, to receive a blessing from the Church’s first Pope, hoping the gates of heaven would be opened for them. This Catholic faith holds so many beautiful rituals with layers of meaning. Layers, like lasagna.
Aventine Hill, One of the Seven Hills of Rome
Before going to the conference center, I stayed two nights at a monastery at the bottom of Aventine Hill, chosen to be near Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino, the monastery of Fr. Mauritius Wilde. Located in a surprisingly residential area near the Coliseum, I favored the solitude and quiet of the crooked, narrow street lined with gardens, parks and ancient churches to the bustle and crowds of St. Peter’s Basilica.
On the leisurely journey up the hill to visit Fr. Mauritius, I visited the Basilica of Santa Sabina, the oldest Roman Basilica built between 422 and 432, where Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, the Pope begins the celebration at Sant’ Anselmo’s, walking on foot from one basilica to another, to celebrate the beginning of Lent. Further up the hill, I visited Santi Bonifacio and Santa Prisca, as well as a park that overlooked the center of Rome, and the famous Knights of Malta Keyhole that outlines a view of St. Peter’s perfectly.
It was a delight to see Fr. Mauritius, who moved to Rome after serving as Prior for six years at Schuyler’s Christ the King Priory. After a behind-the-scenes tour of the academic center, monastery, chapel and grounds, we enjoyed conversation on the patio. I had kept in touch with Fr. Mauritius since his move the year before, but this revealed another layer, like lasagna. There is a contentment knowing just where my friend’s home is, to know where he works and prays.
St. Benedict’s cell at San Benedetto and Montecassino Abbey
Both destinations were a highlight of sacred sites visited—first, the cell of St. Benedict while he studied in Rome (about the year 500) before founding his first monastery in Subiaco. The cell, or small room, has been preserved; a small chapel adjacent, San Benedetto in Piscinula, dates back to the 12th century. I loved, LOVED, loved this special place. I could have stayed there for hours. To know that St. Benedict listened “with the ear of his heart” in this very place, rejecting the political corruption of Rome and what was expected of him, to pursue the call he knew was from God—well, for a Benedictine Oblate, this is a moment. Had I not been in a group with a full sight-seeing schedule, I would have likely spent a half-day in contemplation at this chapel.
After a beautiful drive in the countryside east of Rome, we arrived at the Abbey of Montecassino where St. Benedict wrote his Rule. We were welcomed, after a foggy drive up the mountain, by clear skies and a heartfelt blessing at Mass—“This is your house as Benedictines,” the priest said, “St. Benedict welcomes you, hugs you, blesses you.” After Mass, we visited the original part of the Abbey, dating back to the 5th century, which had not been destroyed during World War II. This was another profound experience—to be in the place where the Rule of St. Benedict, a guide for monastics and oblates for over 1500 years, was penned. Later we met a gentleman who, as a little boy, had taken refuge with his family at the Abbey during the War, hoping to be safe with the monks high on the mountain. How devastating war is, how many layers there are—for this young boy and his family, the nearby town and, ultimately, the Abbey, bombed in the Battle of Monte Cassino. There are no winners in war.
Place is a powerful thing
It gives us perspective, a sense of where we’ve come from and how we’ve gotten here. The Christian story unfolded in this place of Rome. I am so grateful to have experienced this place of Peter and Paul, the places of St. Benedict and so many other holy places.
But I remember that home is holy too.
Home is where I work out the tension between stability and conversion. Home is where I listen to the ear of my heart. Home is the most important place; it is our present moment. Home is the people you surround yourself with, our friends and family. Our story unfolds at home. This is where we uncover our many layers, like lasagna.
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.
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)!
Things often turn out differently than expected. Sometimes 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.
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
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.
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.
There 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.
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)
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.
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?
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.
I hike back to the original choice of trails and take the lower trail.
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?”
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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…
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 she 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.
“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
And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet
Our Circle lost a dear sister this week. Judy passed away only a year or so after being diagnosed with a rare, incurable, fast-growing cancer. For the last several weeks of her life, Judy was unable to leave her bed and wanted
few visitors, but it was important for our Circle to continue sending our love and prayers. Even if we weren’t physically present, we wanted her to feel that we held her in our heart. Each of us committed to a day of the week that we would send Judy some kind of card, note or greeting.
Judy was a lover of SoulCollage®—she came to my first pilot retreat at St. Benedict Center and fell in love with the process. She started meeting weekly to cut, paste and create with our friend, Beth. The practice became a form of expression and prayer for her and she even shared it with her daughters and grandchildren on one of their last vacations together on Captiva Island. Making and sending a SoulCollage® card to honor Judy and our Circle was a form of creative prayer for me.