There are many ways to find refuge in our daily lives if we choose to remember. Too often, we can get sucked into the vortex of expectations and things to do accompanied by a flurry of activities and thoughts, that we forget to ask for help when we need it. Refuge, sanctuary, will not come looking for us. Consider the first lines of Sanctuary.
Will you be my refuge
My haven in the storm,
Will you keep the embers warm
When my fire’s all but gone?
The lyrics are posed as a question.To ask for help requires self-awareness and humility. We must remember to ask for sanctuary.
You can rest here in Brown Chapel,
Or with a circle of friends,
A quiet grove of trees
Or between two bookends.
—Carrie Newcomer, Sanctuary
There is no one right way to seek or find sanctuary. Sometimes sanctuary is a place. Sometimes we need to be with loved ones, our circle of friends. Sometimes spending time in nature or reading a good book. Sometimes we find sanctuary through an act of creativity, like collage or journaling or in an activity where one loses all sense of time. And sometimes we just need silence.Continue reading “Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat (Session 3)”→
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.
“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
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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
Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat
Over the next several days, I will share excerpts from a recent Advent retreat I was honored to lead. Ten women joined me on a journey to explore the significance of seeking, being and finding sanctuary.
The inspiration for the retreat came from the lyrics of this song, Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer.
Sanctuary was written by Carrie Newcomer after a conversation with her friend Parker J. Palmer. She asked him, “What can we do when we are personally or politically heartbroken?” He responded that we take sanctuary. We gather with those we love. We remember, we share stories or we sit in silence until we can go on. There is time for positive action, to do what needs to be done, but there are also times when we rest in the arms of what most sustains us.
The retreat, Sprigs of Rosemary, was an opportunity to creatively and prayerfully ponder what sustains us—a special time to gather with kindred spirits and create our own sanctuary. Consider asking a circle of friends to join you for this online contemplative retreat…or if that doesn’t work, simply carve out time for yourself, a little each day, to practice Lectio Divina with song lyrics, poetry or scripture and to express yourself creatively through SoulCollage®.
Contemplative Session 1: Listen to Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer.
Practice Lectio Divina with the lyrics of this song. What words or phrases speak to your heart? Do any of these words or phrases resonate with you?
Refuge (safe, rest, quiet) — Haven in the storm — Fire (all but gone, embers warm) — Sprigs of Rosemary (remember) — Sanctuary — Carry on — Knees (ground, dropped me) — Us and them — Circle of friends
Consider what SANCTUARY means to you.
What do you think is the significance of SPRIGS OF ROSEMARY? Consider some of the historical uses of rosemary.
Create a question or two to guide you during this online retreat. As you consider words that touched your heart, contemplate the following questions.
Create a SoulCollage® card with images that speak to SANCTUARY or other words that resonate with you and/or questions that you would like to explore more deeply.
Collage is a creative and intuitive act of cutting and pasting images. A collage is easy to create and, yet, so powerful. Images can guide you to a new awareness and reveal a deeper level of thought and feeling. Gather magazine images that you gravitate to. Cut the images out of their original context and imaginatively place them in a new context. It can often feel that an image selects you. Play with different backgrounds. Let your intuition speak to you. When you have enough images, start to frame or fit them together, arranging the images into a collage. SoulCollage® cards are 5 x 8, but use what feels comfortable for you. When it feels finished, glue your images down. If you have never tried creating a collage, you will be amazed at what you can learn from this process. More on that later.
December 6-8, 2019: Sprigs of Rosemary Retreat at St. Benedict Center, Schuyler, NE.
“Will you be my refuge / My haven in the storm, Will you keep the embers warm / When my fire’s all but gone? Will you remember / And bring me sprigs of rosemary, Be my sanctuary / ‘Til I can carry on / Carry on.”–Carrie Newcomer, Sanctuary
Sanctuary was written by Carrie Newcomer after a conversation with her friend Parker J. Palmer. She asked him, “What can we do when we are personally or politically heartbroken?” He responded that we take sanctuary. We gather with those we love. We remember, we share stories or we sit in silence until we can go on. There is time for positive action, to do what needs to be done. But there are also times when we rest in the arms of what most sustains us.
Take sanctuary this Advent with the Sprigs of Rosemary retreat, for time to creatively and prayerfully ponder what sustains us most and the significance of seeking, being and finding sanctuary. Lectio divina, walking the labyrinth, SoulCollage® card making and reading is a perfect Advent sanctuary.
To sign up for the retreat, send email to email@example.com.
“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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 WildeRead more at 2018 Word of the Year…drumroll, please.
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!
Profoundly impacted by the lyrics and vocals of “Benediction of the Trees”, written and performed by Derek Dibbern, I share his music and also images of trees I’ve taken through the years in different seasons and from various states and countries.
Derek and I met at St. Benedict Center several years ago and our paths continue to cross–we’ve been in the same space for Zen meditation, Catholic Mass, my school classroom, as well as local bars and coffee shops where he has performed. Deeply spiritual and always seeking, Derek is a student of inspirational and recreational tree climbing at Tree Climbing Planet in Oregon. He dedicates the song to his teacher, Tim Kovar, and “the many woodland creatures that have held us aloft in our arboreal adventures.”
This song is a prayer. It is recognition that Nature blesses us with trees for our healing, enjoyment, leisure, and protection. Our very breath is dependent on the Benediction of the Trees.
Benediction of the Trees
From the Heart to the Heavens
Rooted in the Earth
Branching out above us
Healing what was hurt
Reaching down to lift us
Swing us in the breeze
the air we breathe She gives us
Benediction of the Trees
Home before our houses
Cornered us inside
Gentle arms around us
Above the rising tide
Can you hear them calling?
Like music in a dream
The leaves are always falling
A Benediction from the Trees
A shout becomes a whisper
A Sermon into Song
It’s useless to resist her
She’s where we all belong
In our Sanctuary Forest
Beneath the Pleiades
Cicadas in the chorus
Benediction to the Trees
As the moon reflects the sunlight
From a million miles away
I’ll try to get the words right
So you can hear her say
In a melody familiar
That brings us to our knees
In Liturgy peculiar
Benediction to the Trees
This Independence Day, I listened to the Neil Diamond classic, “America,” a song that pays tribute to his grandmother who emigrated to the United States from Russia in the early 1900s, reflecting on my own heritage, family, and country. We performed this song as the choir finale during my 9th-grade year at Pound Junior High, dancing in the aisles, shining little flashlights (circa 1980.) I felt so proud of the United States of America and the light of freedom it provided.
We’ve been traveling far
Without a home
But not without a star
Only want to be free
We huddle close
Hang on to a dream
They’re coming to America today!
On a recent country drive, I passed through Prague, Nebraska, the small town near where my mother was born. I made a quick stop to purchase some freshly made kolaches, a traditional Czech fruit-filled pastry.
I also drove up and down the streets, noticing particularly the intersection of Elba and Moravia. Many of the town residents can trace their family roots back to Czechoslovakia and the Bohemia and Moravia regions. I imagined those first Czech immigrants who came to Nebraska—the familiar names and food of their homeland must have given them comfort, even as they sought a fresh beginning in this new country. The famous Nebraskan author Willa Cather wrote, “If security could ever have a smell, it would be the fragrance of a warm kolache.”
As a fourth generation immigrant, I am grateful their heritage was kept alive. My great-grandfather, Frank Blazek, arrived at Ellis Island in 1906 on the Barbarosa ship, not knowing a single soul or a speck of English. He came with only his work ethic and the desire for freedom and a prosperous life. He never saw the parents and siblings he left behind again. His family became his wife, Carrie Pekarek, and their six children—Lod (my grandfather), Rosalie, Frances, Bessie, and twins, Louis and Lillian. If he only knew that his great- and great-great-grandchildren would become park rangers, counselors, graphic artists, law enforcement officers, attorneys, biologists, bankers, teachers and more—I imagine he would have been surprised.
We are mothers and fathers, town and city dwellers, Republican and Democrat, Catholic and Protestant, single, married, divorced and re-married, high school graduates and college-educated. Most of us have stayed in Nebraska, some have moved out of state, a few have studied and traveled abroad. Each of us, offspring from a blacksmith shop owner named Frank, who until his dying day spoke mostly Czech, with his wife being his connection to the English-speaking world.
Photos: Frank Blazek’s Blacksmith shop (and advertisement) Weston, Nebraska 1908-1931.
When I traveled to the Czech Republic, I was shocked how the Czech traditions I had grown up with were not as apparent as I expected, sabotaged of their significance by World War II and the takeover by communists.
All the more important, I realized, it is to preserve our heritage or it will die—a little more with each person who passes from this world. My dad, Tom Blazek, played his part by writing the book, My Valparaiso I and II, capturing the history of his hometown, Valparaiso, Nebraska, and the many families who lived there.
Connecting to our heritage does not mean that we are stuck in the past; rather, it allows us to embrace where we came from as well as being open to new beginnings. My cousin, Mike, demonstrates this poignantly. Recently, he purchased my grandma’s old house, the house she bought after my grandfather, Lod, passed away. This tiny house packed three generations (my grandma, her five sons, their wives and seven cousins) in to celebrate every holiday.
Photos: My grandma, Helen Blazek and the seven grandchildren that celebrated every Christmas in the tiny house. Circa 1974.
Mike tore the house down to its frame and rebuilt it piece by piece with his own hands—new walls, floors, ceilings, windows, everything. Mike and I reflected that it feels a little smaller to us now, but it never felt small or crowded to us then. We had family and traditions and that was plenty.
The before photos: Mike Blazek, my cousin, tears grandma’s house down to the frame to rebuild.
I love how Mike has honored our grandmother and the family she nurtured, while also creating a new beginning for himself (just as she had done.) Sometimes we must tear things down to the foundation to begin again. He preserved the old and created the new; we need both.
The After Photos: Mike’s house after working on it for over a year.
“As we grow older we have more and more people to remember, people who have died before us. It is very important to remember those who have loved us and those we have loved. Remembering them means letting their spirits inspire us in our daily lives. They can become part of our spiritual communities and gently help us as we make decisions on our journeys… Remembering the dead is choosing their ongoing companionship.” –Henri J. M. Nouwen, Bread for the Journey
Photos: Frank Blazek, my great-grandfather, was called “Doda” by all the grandchildren.
In the spirit of remembering, my dad has gathered many memories, photos and artifacts into a family history. As I read the correspondence of postcards across the sea from father to son, sister to brother, I consider the immigration crisis my country, and many countries around the world, face today.
Postcard on left: My beloved brother! Another year has passed, your dear name day, your whole family wishes you what is best for every person, mostly health in your family circle. I have been able to live to this day. Wishes your sister, Marie Kytokova 10/10/62 Breelev Other postcards sent from the home country through the years.
My dad writes,“Now…everyone is protesting immigrants coming to America. We must remember we wouldn’t be here if our grandpa wasn’t one of those immigrants. (We) are lucky; we were born in America thanks to Frank Blazek. No one can tell us to go back where we came from like immigrants are told now.”
My prayer for this Independence Day and for the tumultuous political environment we are in:
May we remember the courage it took for our ancestors and forefathers to seek freedom.
I don’t know Kate Spade. I don’t own any of her purses or other products. I’m not fashion-conscious by any stretch of the imagination—my daughter/personal shopper will vouch for that. But the news that Kate Spade—a beautiful, wealthy, creative woman—has ended her life has me in tears.
There are many unanswered questions for those left behind when someone takes their own life. I wonder about this woman I do not know. Were there demons in her head that told her she wasn’t enough, that there was no hope for healing her pain, that she was a burden to those who love her? I wonder about her husband, her child and her close friends. I wonder if she reached out for help. I wonder why her love for her daughter seems not to have been enough to override her feelings of despair. So many questions…
I immediately reached out to my own daughter—“If you ever ever ever feel that kind of depression or desperation, please please please reach out…It is never true—that evil voice in our head that says life isn’t worth it or that pain cannot be overcome. If there is a devil, that is it, that voice. It is a liar.” I thought of a former student who loved Kate Spade and her products—I sent her a message too. “This is shocking news but a testament that no one is immune.”
So often we think that the rich and famous, or educated, funny, spiritual (or any of the qualities we covet), do not struggle with depression and despair. But they are human, too. Even Kate Spade, who chose to end her life, must have felt she had no choice. There is a mystery to suicide. There is much we do not know or understand, but we should not blame those involved and/or think that it happens only to others.
We are all vulnerable. I lost a friend to suicide over a decade ago—and it still makes me sad and angry. I have also had bouts of depression, despair and the occasional voice of the devil that rears its ugly head in my thoughts. We are all vulnerable to becoming a victim of suicide—either one who is left behind, as one who struggles with despairing thoughts or the one who completes this final act.
In the weeks before my dear friend, Colleen, decided to take her own life, she suffered from immense physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional pain. No one can feel the pain of another or take it away but, still, I hope she received some comfort that she was met in her pain through conversations with and prayers from her loved ones.
I used to think this was enough—to be available and compassionate, to pray and forgive. But I think there is one more vital thing we can do for ourselves and others—tell them NOT to leave, beg them NOT to listen to the voice of the devil, the liar in their head.
And as you encounter someone who seems at risk of suicide, consider the advice from St. Benedict, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ” and treat each person as if they were Christ himself, particularly yourself. You are the Christ-bearer and worthy of patient waiting for the dark night of the soul to pass. For an excellent article and insight from a Catholic perspective, read A Catholic Approach to the Suicide Epidemic.
A few months after we had moved into our new home, one of my favorite monks, Fr. Thomas Leitner joined us for a special dinner and house blessing. After the introductory prayers and Scripture readings, Fr. Thomas sprinkled Holy Water that had been blessed at the Easter Vigil in each of our rooms—the living room, bedrooms, kitchen, upstairs, downstairs and even next door at Al and Beth’s house, our townhouse roofmates—and a little extra splash for our loyal Dachsy-Poo, Bailey. Our daughter, who was finishing her last year in college, would spend a few months living in our new home, but mostly it would become our empty nest. This blessing for our home was also a blessing for the next chapter in our lives.
Fr. Thomas also gave us a special gift, a replica of Andrei Rublev’s Holy Trinity Icon. An icon, an image or religious picture, communicates a deeper spiritual meaning often used in prayer and meditation for Christians throughout the world. It was a special image for him, used as the holy card for his ordination and First Mass in 1992.* He enthusiastically shared with us why he also felt it represented how we would welcome those who entered as guests and the hospitality we would extend in our new home.
The three angels in the icon symbolize the three strangers that Abraham welcomes into his tent in Genesis.
The LORD appeared to Abraham by the oak of Mamre, as he sat in the entrance of his tent…he saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the entrance of the tent to greet them …He ran to the herd, picked out a tender, choice calf, and gave it to a servant, who quickly prepared it. Then he got some curds and milk, as well as the calf that had been prepared, and set these before them, waiting on them under the tree while they ate (Genesis 18:1–8).
The three angels wear different colored garments representing their distinct role in the relationship of the Trinity. Viewed left to right, the angels represent the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. “The first angel wears a blue undergarment, symbolizing the divine nature of God and a purple outer garment, pointing to the Father’s kingship. The second angel is the most familiar as he is wearing the clothes typically worn by Jesus…The crimson color symbolizes Christ’s humanity, while the blue is indicative of his divinity. The oak tree behind the angel reminds us of the tree of life in the Garden of Eden as well as the cross upon which Christ saved the world from the sin of Adam. The third angel is wearing a blue garment (divinity), as well as a green vestment over the top. The color green points to the earth and the Holy Spirit’s mission of renewal…The two angels on the right of the icon have a slightly bowed head toward the other, illustrating the fact that the Son and Spirit come from the Father.” (Source: The Russian Icon that Reveals the Mystery of the Trinity, Alteteia, Philip Kosloski, May 21, 2016)
A chalice sits at the center of the table representing both the literal meal the strangers were invited to and the table of the Eucharist we are invited to. It appears the Holy Spirit points towards an open space at the table, perhaps as an invitation to each of us, to all, to sit at the table—to be welcomed and received as Christ.
“At the front of the table, there appears to be a little rectangular hole. Most people pass right over it, but some art historians believe the remaining glue on the original icon indicates that there was perhaps once a mirror glued to the front of the table. It’s stunning when you think about it—there was room at this table for a fourth. The observer. You!” (Source: Take Your Place at the Table, Tuesday, September 13, 2016, Richard Rohr)
Fr. Thomas’ gift was a perfect expression of what Joe and I desire our home to be—hospitable and welcoming. Ironically, or providentially, a nail hung on an empty wall near where we opened our gift, so I placed the icon on it. It is the perfect place for it—in our living room where friends and family gather, and at the entry to our kitchen where most entertaining takes place.
Holy Trinity Sunday is celebrated in many churches this weekend. It is an opportunity to remember, “…this Table is not reserved exclusively for the Three, nor is the divine circle a closed circle: we’re all invited in.” (Source: The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation, Richard Rohr with Mike Morrell)
St. Benedict insisted that hospitality be one of the highest values for monasteries, writing “Let all guests who arrive be received as Christ.” (RB 53:1) Being hospitable is our opportunity to respond to God’s great generosity towards us. If we are truly made in God’s image, lovingly invited to the Table and to dance with the Holy Trinity, then we are meant to extend that welcoming invitation to others.
*A note from Fr. Thomas: This icon, which is used to depict the Holy Trinity, originally was meant to show the three Divine visitors to Abraham (Gen 18:1-15). The day of my First Mass in Noerdlingen was the 16th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C. On this day, Gen 18:1-10a is in the Lectionary in conjunction with Luke 10:38-42, Mary and Martha. The topic of hospitality, that we find as we combine these texts lent itself so well for the homily (preached by my former novice master, Fr. Meinrad) and also for my little speech at the reception. We practice hospitality and, perhaps without being aware of it, receive God in the guest.