St Benedict, St. Scholastica and Spiritual Friendship

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

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

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

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

confirmation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Nebraska Birthday Wish

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

DSC_0692Photo: St. Benedict Center

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

DSC_0389Photo: Final Oblation Mass, St. Benedict Center Chapel

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

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

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

So guess what? My Nebraska birthday wish was granted!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSC_1067Photo: Münsterschwarzach Abbey, Germany

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

IMG_0146

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

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

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

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

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

A Country Road Contemplative

I’m thrilled to have written a Monk in the World Guest Post at Christine Valters Paintner’s Abbey of the Arts website/blog. She is one of my favorite authors (The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom) and an inspiration for me to continue to learn more about creativity and prayer. My post, A Country Road Contemplative, is about the sacred pilgrimage of driving country roads.

~~~~~~~~              ~~~~~~~            ~~~~~~

My country drives are a sacred experiencea contemplative, scenic journey through four counties of Nebraska. 

Driving country roads has become a pilgrimage of its own as I travel to St. Benedict Center, a Benedictine retreat center and monastery seventy miles northwest of my home. Once or twice a month, I receive spiritual direction, participate in or lead retreats, attend Oblate meetings or pray with the monks. It’s where I go to honor my “inner monk”, find peace and quiet, learn to live more holy and grow in love. It has become my spiritual home and a home-away-from-home.


Optimized-DSC_0471aInitially, the drive was a means to an end, an hour and a half that I endured to get to my spiritual oasis. 
For most of thirteen years, I’ve taken the most direct route via paved highway. Occasionally, I took a different route or explored shortcuts, attempting to shave minutes off the drive.

The most efficient shortcut requires traveling on ten miles of gravel roads through small towns with few houses, and long since closed grocery stores and taverns. Every mile or two, there is a farmhouse nestled in rolling hills (or on flat-as-pancakes plains; we have both in Nebraska), acres of crops, cattle and pig farms, old trucks and tractors, and farm dogs that run after my car, barking.

I begin to notice details—the color of the sky, shapes of clouds, shadows on a hill. I wonder about the farmhouse that still has curtains on the windows, yet abandoned. I stop on bridges and watch water rush below. I see turkey and deer, donkeys and horses, weeds and wildflowers, fields of sunflowers and bales of hay. But, rarely, do I see other people.

It’s common in Nebraska to travel country roads and not encounter another car or person for miles. I feel as if I’m the only person in the world, an unmatched solitude and peace. I am taken with the beauty of the changing seasons—the greens of spring and summer, the gold and reds of autumn, the browns and grey of winter. I notice when the corn is higher, the sky more blue. The landscape is always being re-created, always in a state of becoming.

It happened slowly, but I realized that the drive is just as sacred of an experience as getting to my destination.  I prefer to drive alone, sometimes spending two or more hours turning west, then north, then west again; taking roads that look interesting and head in the general direction of St. Benedict Center. It has become part of the weekend getaway instead of the means to an end. The drives that I had tried to trim minutes off of, actually have become longer. As I plan more time for the drive, my weekend pilgrimages start the minute I get in the car.

A pilgrimage is a journey. A pilgrimage does not require a far-off destination or even a sacred shrine as the endpoint. A great Desert father, Abba Moses, advised his monks, “Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” My car has become my “cell”, where I turn inward, reflect, behold, contemplate and enjoy the country roads.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”― Heraclitus

Optimized-DSC_0500a (1)I wanted to capture the beauty of the land that is so seldom seen—not just in numbers of people (although that can be an issue in Nebraska), but I mean really seen—appreciated, cherished, shared.  Now I take a camera with me every time I travel country roadsI pull my car to the side of the road and photograph animals, sheds, flowers, old buildings, roads, fields, clouds, gravestones on a hill. I take pictures of cows that make eye contact with me (and they always do). I photograph barns that are bright red, barns with peeling paint, barns that have collapsed.

With each photo I take I know I am experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime-moment. I have taken thousands of photos of the countryside, but no two will ever be the same.  Never again will the clouds look just that way or will the grass be just that shade of green. Never will I step into the same “river” again, each moment unique and made for me to celebrate. When that moment is gone, it is gone forever.

I am alone on my pilgrimage, yet accompanied. This is where I know I meet God. This is where ideas overflow; where there are bursts of creativity and a wealth of insights; where problems get solved, prayer happens and time stands still, in my “cell”.

My “cell” has taught me that photography is contemplative prayer. It is a new way of seeing. I honor the present moment like no other time or place. There are so many undiscovered parts of our world—places where no one is—in the depths of the ocean, the expanse of a cornfield, down a Nebraska country road. God is present in all of those places and in our solitude we can be there too.

I have learned so much about God and life on country roads. The most efficient route might not be the most fruitful. I can head in a general direction and God can fill in the details. I can be flexible. Listening to God and following my intuition works. Perhaps I don’t need to have everything planned out perfectly. I can look for signs along the way (some roads are more winding or steep; usually there is a warning, just like in life). I can surrender to surprise. The present moment is all we have and we better appreciate it. Joy is meant to be shared, eventually, but solitude is essential. Spirit is the best roadmap. I am not the Absolute, so I cannot know absolutely where I should end up. I’ve learned to listen, to pray, to rejoice. I experience the sacred on country roads.

 

Benedictine Spirituality, Hospitality…and My Favorite Monks

I’m not sure how it really started, that I call the monks of Christ the King PriorymonksMy Favorite Monks”, but I’ve been calling them that for several years now. Once upon a time, I didn’t know ANY monks and now I have “favorite” monks. It was an advertisement in the Lincoln newspaper for a contemplative prayer retreat that brought me to St. Benedict Center (and the Monastery, across the street) in 2002. I am grateful to the monks who have shared their faith and wisdom through contemplative and guided retreats (dozens of them!), the Oblate program, Continue reading “Benedictine Spirituality, Hospitality…and My Favorite Monks”

Pictures are worth a thousand words.

It’s not just a cliche. Images are powerful. They conjure up feelings, memories, ideas. They tell stories. They stand for something.

A brandmark or logo expresses the identity of a business that is easily recognized without using words. Businesses spend a ton of money developing their brand identity, not that we need the business world’s affirmation of the power of images. We already know it. We know it in our soul.

soul-picture

Continue reading “Pictures are worth a thousand words.”

Anticipatory Joy ~ Vorfreude!

Vorfreude, a German word meaning “anticipatory joy”, captures that bursting-with-excitement, overflowing-with-enthusiasm, oh-my-God-I-can-hardly-wait-for-the-awesomeness-to-come state of being. Sometimes there really are no words to explain our feelings. Lucky for us, there are different languages, perspectives, experiences and images that can bring us closer to understanding ourselves and the Divine.
Where does this bubbling-over joy come from?
Is our joy from the anticipation itself? Perhaps. Sometimes.
The Germans have a saying, “Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude!” which means “The greatest joy lies in the anticipation.” How wonderful it is to look forward to something with this kind of joy!
I believe this joy can be sustained for longer than that experience we are looking forward to.
As we stand in the flow of Divine Love, we receive the anticipatory joy to live our life on purpose, with passion and creativity, born for loving God and others.
I love this new word, Vorfreude.

Vorfreude. It’s how I feel about a lot of things right now.
About a Benedictine Pilgrimage to Germany, Austria and the Czech Republic this summer.
About Benedictine spirituality and “ora et labora”, my prayer and work.
About writing and finishing a project started years ago.
About SoulFully You retreats and practicing SoulCollage®.
About contemplative prayer and photography.
About a new school year (only after a joy-filled summer, insert smiley face).
About the new babies coming into our family this year.
About “Jessica becoming”, watching my child grow into a woman.
About my family, my faith, my friends.

Yes, I love this new word, Vorfreude.
More to come. Join me for the JOY!

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