An ICY snow day reflection

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Last week I enjoyed the stability of an icy day. The Benedictine vow of stability provides for our need to be rooted in Christ, to be grounded in the present moment, and practicing gratitude regardless of our circumstances and of the uncertain future.  Seasons come and go, “but the word of our God stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) We learn from the seasons that they and all things do, indeed, pass. The icy, chilly weather prevents us from traveling too swiftly; there is something to learn from this staying put. This paradox, that we must stay grounded during the changing seasons, encourages us to move a little slower and to learn from the present moment. The icy weather gives us no choice but to stay put. Perhaps when we are going through “icy” relationships or experiences, we can apply the Benedictine principle of stability.  Continue reading “An ICY snow day reflection”

The road ahead is uncertain. But isn’t it always?

The road ahead is uncertain. But isn’t it always?

Today’s weather, on this day of the inauguration, reflects how I have felt for several weeks now. It’s a little dreary, foggy, rainy; the road ahead is unclear.  But weather can change quickly in Nebraska, so I imagine that my feelings will likely change soon enough as well. There’s also a good chance that even if circumstances stay the same, how I see them will change. One day it won’t seem so foggy and dreary. I know this is true, both for the weather and for myself.

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Earlier this week I posted photos of the ice storm that created such dangerous conditions, closing schools and businesses for a few days; today there is haze and drizzle; and, tomorrow it’s supposed to be 50 degrees. Only in the state of Nebraska can we experience so many seasons in one week! As for my state of mind, foggy actually feels pretty good compared to the earthquake, tsunami-sized feelings that came on the heels of a simultaneously frigid and fiery election season.  But I know that how I felt November 8 is different than it was a month, a week, or even a few days ago. Continue reading “The road ahead is uncertain. But isn’t it always?”

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.

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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.  

Parker Palmer for President: The only political post I will ever make

How do we “ward off the buffoonery and blathering, the racism and sexism and homophobia, the distortions and demonizing, the rhetorical cruelty, the cover-ups, the abysmal ignorance and flat-out lies that suck the marrow from our souls as the 2016 presidential marathon gains momentum”? -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”

Seriously, how do we??

I want to be an informed voter, to be aware of what’s happening in our country and to understand what the Presidential candidates hope to accomplish. But I just don’t know who or what to believe.

How can so many candidates believe they have the Absolute Truth and the One and Only Answer to all of our country’s problem? How can each of them be right and all the others be wrong? Why do hostility, distrust and self-righteousness have to be the status quo for election years?

As the media and candidates spin their stories, I sit and spin (remember those?) and I’m sit and spindizzy. It makes one want to “hole up for the duration”; to turn off the news and hide every Facebook post that is political. There are some candidates or issues that bring a visceral response—my stomach hurts, my heart beats faster, I get tempted to respond or post my own political comments (likely, equally as uninformed as the post that pissed me off).

So why do I put myself through it? Why did I stay up late to see that, ultimately, a coin toss could determine who would be the Democratic “winner” of the Iowa caucuses? Why do I engage in political conversations that cause discomfort?

I have never been very political.  I would prefer to steer away from political conversations, even with issues I agree. Too often I find myself being the devil’s advocate because, well, that side needs defending too, right? Or I get so wound up (the sit and spin effect) because I know it’s not really a listening-kind-of conversation, but a trying-to-convince-me-of-something conversation. Political conversations seem so hopeless and people become so divided.spinning out of controlAB.jpg

I don’t like disagreement. I don’t like conflict. I want everyone to get along. But I know that I contribute to this conflict as much as I want to avoid it. I have my opinions that I think are right just as much as the person who believes strongly in something different. But having a daughter with a Political Science major and a husband who loves 24/7 news does not allow me to escape the political scene.

Escape is not really a good option anyway: I want to be politically and socially aware, to be able to have an intelligent conversation and an opinion about the issues and candidates that impact our future.

“Though much of our political discourse is toxic, “politics” itself is not a dirty word. It’s the ancient and honorable effort to come together across our differences and create a community in which the weak as well as the strong flourish, love and power collaborate, and justice and mercy have their day.” -Parker Palmer, Breathing New Life into “We The People”

Election years do feel toxic. It feels like there isn’t a lot of community that is created (except with people who are already like-minded). Community implies cooperation with those not necessarily like us, to “come together across our differences”.  But it feels like there isn’t a lot of listening. There is more holding to an opinion, standing our ground on what we think “makes America great” (even though we don’t know what that means and the candidates don’t tell us what they will do to get us there either).

revolution.

“We need a revolution of tenderness.” –Pope Francis

We need “a political revolution to transform our country economically, politically, socially and environmentally.” –Senator Bernie Sanders

The word that has resonated with me during these past few months is “revolution”.  It has come from the mouth of Pope Francis and from Senator Bernie Sanders. In both situations it is a call for desperate measures, a radical change in the way things are being done and the way we treat each other.

Pope emojiPlease do not mistake me for putting Pope Francis and Bernie Sanders, or any political candidate, in the same category.  Anyone who knows me knows Pope Francis wins any contest hands down (I have Pope emojis, case closed), but it’s the word “revolution” that has me thinking.  Perhaps we all have a sense when things aren’t working, when we need to try something different.

So what can we do to bring about a revolution of tenderness during this election year when it is all too easy to see what divides us, to dwell on the differences?

Parker Palmer, in his article Breathing New Life into “We the People”, makes some excellent suggestions for managing the political angst of an election year.

    1. Value our differences:Only through the creative conflict of ideas has the human race ever accomplished great things.
    2. Listen for the long haul: Holding your differences with others in a way that can sustain dialogue over time, giving everyone a chance to speak, listen, and learn.
    3. Listen for understanding: “The more you know about other people’s stories, the harder it is to dislike, distrust, or demonize them.”
    4. Honor diversity: “Not only visible diversity but the invisible forms of “otherness” (from political persuasions to sexual orientations) that exist among people who look alike.”
    5. Act with hospitality: We have the power to resist the culture of hostility that’s gutting American politics — to act daily in ways that foster a culture of hospitality…”

*all quotes above from Palmer article 

Palmer is a Quaker, but this all sounds very Benedictine.  St. Benedict, in his Rule, states “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ.” (RSB: 53) Treating others as Christ takes intention.

So my goal for this election season is to be a little more Benedictine: to try a little tenderness; to be more hospitable, to be a little more tolerant of opinions different than my own.  To have more conversations where I simply listen; to be less judgmental; to try to understand why others believe or vote the way they do.  I am not an expert (on hardly anything, let alone politics) and I have a lot to learn. I have a lot to learn about treating others as Christ.

Having an attitude of tenderness and hospitality may be the only thing that can bring a revolution within, in this country or this world. As Palmer states, “Just as democracy can die a death of a thousand cuts, it can be given new life by a thousand acts of civility.”  I will do my part.

If you are interested in topics of tolerance, hospitality, listening and self-righteousness according to the Rule of St. Benedict, I encourage you to listen to the podcasts listed below. Kris McGregor of Discerning Hearts interviews Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB, PhD, Prior of Christ the King Monastery in Schuyler, Nebraska on Benedictine spirituality. I highly recommend!

HR#6 “In place of provincialism, respect and tolerance” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB

HR#11 “Instead of circling around one’s self, hospitality” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde OSB

HR#13 “In place of self-righteousness…seeking God” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B

HR#17 “The Value of Listening and Silence” – The Holy Rule of St. Benedict with Fr. Mauritius Wilde O.S.B

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Card name: Diversity, It Takes All KindsParker Palmer

More from Parker Palmer:  Chutzpah and Humility: Five Habits of the Heart for Democracy in America

 ….and a little more from Parker Palmer! I was tickled to hear from him on Facebook in response to this blog post.

Always We Begin Again

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“Always we begin again.” –St. Benedict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In our thoughts, words and actions, towards ourselves and others, we have a new day to try again to give and receive the mercy that God has given us.

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

Praying with Scissors

“Why run with scissors when you can pray with them?”

After attending a recent SoulCollage® workshop, feeling inspired, a participant hashtagged this question, “Why run with scissors when you can pray with them?”

praying with scissors

It’s impossible to be creative or prayerful when either we are running around with scissors in our hands or our head spinning off from the self-destructive-crazy-busy-way-too-many roles we play in life. Our days filled with tasks, whether worthwhile or mundane, are scheduled to the minute. We either count our minutes or count our minutes slipping way. We feel a scarcity of time when we operate in this “chronos” perspective of time. When we function from a place of “not enough” and we don’t invite moments of silence and solitude, we miss the glimpses of grace that could slip through a sliver of unscheduled time. Continue reading “Praying with Scissors”

Decluttering: Taking Off The Top Layer

We’ve taken off the top layer of knick-knacks, wall hangings and books—twenty years of pictures of Jessica growing up, snapshots of vacations, dozens of refrigerator magnets holding senior pictures, expired coupons, newspaper clippings and birth announcements—and loaded up two trailers-worth of boxes and furniture that we can live without for a while (and perhaps longer).  The stuff that we can live without has gone to a better home. Continue reading “Decluttering: Taking Off The Top Layer”

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”

Journey to birth

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Recently I shared my favorite German word–Vorfreude: Anticipatory joy. It’s caused me to consider other times in my life when I’ve had “vorfreude”. I remember the expectation of pregnancy, joyfully anticipating the moment when I would finally hold the baby we had spent months, years actually, planning for. I’ve thought about it more lately because my two young cousins, Carrie and Christy, are both expecting a child in September. There is nothing like feeling the moving tummy of a pregnant woman to trigger “vorfreude”–that excitement of whether it will be a boy or a girl, when will the baby come? what will s/he look like? and so on. It’s an infectious “vorfreude”!

Even the phrase, “She’s expecting”, points us toward a “due date”, a countdown of weeks and months where we watch the baby grow. It’s an exciting time, even if there’s a bit of worry or discomfort. The journey gives the expectant parents time to grow into their new life, to prepare, plan and reflect. How will we decorate the baby’s rooms? What kind of daycare will we need? Cloth or disposable diapers? If it’s a girl, will we let her play with Barbie dolls? How will we afford college? What values do we want to instill in our child?

This nine-month journey, a surreal, sort of out-of-body experience, realizes its potential, it’s full joy, in the birth of a baby. And all at once, the anticipation is gone and the reality is here. A reality that could not have been imagined, despite all the careful planning.

The “vorfreude” I have felt for my Benedictine pilgrimage is a little like a pregnancy journey for me. It’s been nine months since I signed up to go on the Benedictine Re-Connection Pilgrimage, planned by Christ the King Priory, the monastery affiliated with St. Benedict Center. I have spent the last 12 years growing in my faith and learning about Benedictine spirituality. On the pilgrimage, I will celebrate one year of being a Benedictine oblate as well as my birthday on the Solemnity of St. Benedict. But the idea to travel to Germany and the Czech Republic was birthed in me as a child on two counts.

I grew up knowing that I came from both Czech and German descent. My great grandfather, Frank Blazek, came to the USA from Brno, Czechoslovakia in 1906, when he was only 16 years old, never to return or to see his family again. Years later, after his passing, his daughter, my great Aunt Rose visited her father’s home country and met many relatives. She brought me a doll in a native Czech dress from that visit. I remember wondering what this country was like, this country that I had relatives in too. I decided at age 6 or 7 that I was going there someday.

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Having German roots was important to me as well. My mother’s brother, after marrying a German woman, has lived there his entire adult life with his wife and two children, Jefferey and Jennifer. Although Uncle Joe came back every 2-4 years during my childhood, he had never brought his family until 1994, when his wife and daughter came to Nebraska for a visit. So I met Jennifer once, 20 years ago, but had never met Jefferey. This, I knew, one day I must do.

So these nine months I have been joyfully anticipating this trip. Sometimes I let out shrieks of delight when alone….or with others, whenever the excitement hit me. I’ve read about sacred sites that we will visit. I planned additional days in Germany to meet with my cousins. I’ve looked at many websites and travel books. I’ve made a feeble attempt to learn a few German words. I’ve created a packing list, bought new clothes, debated about what size of suitcase to take. I’ve corresponded with friends and relatives who live there or who have been there. I have read about pilgrimages and prayed for this journey. It has been vorfreude, anticipatory joy, of the highest order.

Until last week. My vorfreude took a temporary hiatus as we dealt with some health problems of my husband. He started having chest pains and spent 3 days in the hospital undergoing observation and heart tests. Of primary concern was Joe’s health. Could his health be remedied? How would I feel if I left on the trip and Joe was not well? The “what ifs” overshadowed any “vorfreude” I might have been feeling. Although joy seemed to be replaced with fear, this too, is part of life. We were blessed with supportive family and friends and we had the opportunity to provide comfort for each other. Thankfully, Joe is feeling somewhat better and, most importantly, heart problems have been ruled out. I am able to go on the Pilgrimage as planned. My vorfreude has returned. Nine months have passed–there’s been expectation, planning, a counting down of months…and now I can’t wait to “hold this baby!”

It has been a journey, a birthing, perhaps a pilgrimage itself, to get to this point. Pilgrimages are a spiritual journey to sacred sites where many others have prayed, often for centuries. Perhaps the pilgrim has some aspect in their life they are seeking clarity for or desiring spiritual growth or an experience of God. Perhaps to satisfy a soul’s yearning or curiosity. Perhaps the pilgrim is open for the unfolding of surprises and the awareness that is birthed. For me, it is all of these. The birthing begins. Vorfreude!

 

 

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