Creating Sanctuary: The “Beautiful Ones” Group Card

“Altars can be very powerful…We acknowledge an incarnate God who speaks through symbols and the things of our everyday lives…” -The Artist’s Rule, Christine Valters Paintner

An altar can be a centering, focal point for group or personal prayer or creativity. The altar placed in the center of our creative space during the Sprigs of Rosemary Advent Retreat held symbols of the season and the retreat—an advent wreath surrounded by fresh rosemary and a rosemary candle.

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Throughout the retreat, more symbols were added.  Each woman placed SoulCollage® cards they had made over the days as well as offering a single image that resonated with them that later I would create into a group card—something I’ve never done before. For the closing session, each woman lit their own rosemary candle from the larger candle and special blessings were shared.

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Symbols and rituals create pathways in our hearts and minds, allowing us to carry meaningful experiences with us into our ordinary lives. Creating our group card was one such experience. With permission from the Beautiful Ones, a term of endearment coined by Sara—a dear friend and retreat participant—find reflections and I Am One Who Statements from some of our group.

sprigs of rosemary womens retreat

Betty shared—“There was a bond formed within this retreat of Beautiful Ones that will keep us united eternally. Christ sat with us the entire time. I’m still at a loss to describe how this retreat touched and changed me.  I only know since the card reading, I have learned more about myself and my relationship with God.  Both have deepened to a level I have never experienced. I really can’t find words to express what is differentinner confidence I’ve lacked, acceptance of physical issues, but most of all a deepening in my trust of my Lord. My mantra, Jesus I trust in you is going to depths I never expected.  I hope all of you realize that it was your presence and spirit that guided me too. Continue reading “Creating Sanctuary: The “Beautiful Ones” Group Card”

Be Excessively Gentle: A New Year’s Un-Resolution

gentle-with-yourself“Gentle” is going to be my word for 2017.

I resolve to be gentle, excessively gentle.

A new year’s resolution implies a determined effort to make a change, of which I certainly could consider—to be more patient and generous, to eat more healthful, to exercise, to lose weight. There is an endless list of shoulds, musts, shouldn’ts, can’ts, more of this or less of that, but I resolve only to be excessively gentle. Resolve, itself, is such a dogged, unwavering word, so instead I call this “being gentle” my un-resolution.

I’ve been giving this “being gentle” idea some thought during the sacred waiting of Advent. So often, I try to hurry through the darkness of life, times that are painful, (seriously, who wants to hang out there?), but during Advent I feel I have permission to rest in the womb of darkness, taking time to prayerfully reflect on a very difficult 2016.

Although I want to move quickly through my discomfort, and those around me prefer this as well, I have felt incapable. The lesson of Advent is that birthing cannot be hurried, especially of the Christ; perhaps, this resting gently in my own darkness could have something to teach as well.

So how can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?  This is the question I sought an answer to during a SoulFully You Advent retreat. With the help of compassionate friends and the insightful  SoulCollage® process (called readings), I am discovering how I might move more gently into 2017.

Reflecting on, praying with, or “reading” your cards is a process that never fails—if you have questions, God provides answers that are tailor-made using the images that have spoken uniquely to you. We begin by randomly selecting three Soulcollage® cards from our personal collection, cards made months or years earlier, taking turns with questions and reflections.

I ask my first card, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?1470050_10205193566429100_1861880692419772670_n

I am one who looks down on the universe and upon a scene of the Garden of Eden. We are a part of the whole but also in relationship.  I am one who is the light of Christ; I can look upon the universe with love and light, just as God does.  I am one who can be more gentle, remembering we are all connected with the light of Christ shining through each of us. Being gentle with others means withholding judgment, being content with myself and looking lovingly upon myself and others. I am this child who looks upon the scenes of daily life with acceptance, with the feeling that God is well-pleased.  “God saw all he had made, and indeed it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)

I ask my second card, which is quite different than the first, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?spinning-out-of-control

I am one who is deserted, depressed, angry. I am one who feels knotted up, spinning out of control, losing my head, going in a million different directions.  All negativity and darkness flow from a small place (in the lower left corner of the card). In the doorway is a pile of trash, things that are thrown away. I need to let things that need to be thrown away, be thrown away. I do not need to let the darkness, either outside or inside of myself, consume me. I am one who can give voice to these dark things, not masking it. I can let the darkness be what it is without holding on to it. I am one who can face the shadow side and not ignore it.  In the darkness of the doorway from which all negativity flows, there is still light. I can face everything head on and reside in this place where trash, the darkness, is also present.

I ask my third card, How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others?stability darkness and light.jpg

Unsure whether this card is really finished, I am attracted to the stability represented by different types of stones, all having endured the test of time. I am one who gathers strength in the mother/child connection; I can mother myself through the storm of life. I see the darkness and light in everyone, knowing that no one is ever “finished”. I am one who is strong, committed to stability and grounded in faith regardless of my situation. To survive, to thrive, there must be a convergence of both dark and light in myself and others. I draw strength by resting into the stability of my faith, my God and constant companion.light-and-darkness

Looking holistically, the theme of light and darkness in each card cannot be missed. It can be a harsh reality to accept that there is always a little darkness in one’s life, but, there is inevitable light amidst this darkness that gives hope, purpose, and meaning. I feel affirmed that patiently wading through the dark waters of life will bring healing, a sense of being “finished”.

After reflecting on the insights of my SoulCollage® reading, I felt another card needed to be created, titled—Just Hang It Up.

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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. Instead place “it” carefully on a hanger, still a part of my personal collection of wounds and wonders. One cannot keep wearing what is from the past; sometimes we just need to hang it up, to let it rest. Perhaps this is the way to learn to be excessively gentle–hang up the past, forgive, move on.

What is the “it” that can be hung up? I’m still praying and seeking answers about the “it”, but I have an idea. “It” is shame—shame that comes from criticism, disappointment, expectations, being silenced, feeling too much…all of these too much, not enough kinds of feelings that lead to discontent, a lack of self and other acceptance.

Our darkness can be carried in the heart as shame, unless perhaps, we treat ourselves darkness-1agently and pray for healing. I’m just starting this journey, I am not “finished”—and in the time I’ve written this post, I have participated in nearly everyone one of the “its” listed.  But there is an awareness  that I can let some of “it” go. I can just hang “it” up. I can be gentle with myself. 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”

May you move ever so gently into the new year.
Take time for silence. Listen.
Take solace in your faith. Pray.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Be excessively gentle with others.
And may your 2017 be blessed!

For posts on similar topics:

Always We Begin Again, Year of Mercy
A Great Light Has Come Upon the Earth, Advent
Praying with Scissors, SoulCollage® process

For information about Full Moon and Advent retreats.

 

When the Dust Settles

“In dreams, spiritual reality breaks into our life…In our conscious life, we are often blind and deaf to God.  We overlook what God wants to tell us.  We listen solely to our own thoughts and those of the people around us and fail to hear God’s voice.  For this reason, God must be made perceptible in our dreams.”  Anselm Grün, Dreams on the Spiritual Journey

I trust the language of dreams. I hear from the deepest part of myself, the part of me that knows the Divine beyond my thoughts or beliefs or ego. I have spent years listening to and working with the images of dreams in prayer, spiritual direction and journaling learning to trust that I can trust my dreams. My dreams always bring insight, often provide solutions, and, more recently, give me courage.

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Recently I had a dream that my daughter and I were driving down a road to our home. While we were driving near a large building under construction, there was a huge explosion that spewed debris and dust in every direction, plummeting from the sky, dipping sideways, flying through the air. There were cars, smashed along the road, that had been hit by flying debris. Despite poor visibility, we continued driving. I may have told Jessica, or at least I was thinking, that we needed to keep moving forward; that stopping, even though we could not see through the dust in front of us, would put us in greater jeopardy. Even though it was frightening, we had to move forward. But I also knew we needed to slow down. Move forward cautiously and courageously—this was the insight I heard as we drove through the flying dust and debris. Frightened and, yet, confident, we safely reached the other side of the explosion. The view was clear, the dust had settled, we were out of harm’s way.

The dream wasn’t a huge surprise—there’s a lot going on in our life right now. Uncertainty and changes, surprises, disappointments, some anticipation and some fear. The dream captures the ambiguity that is our life lately.  If we are truly honest with ourselves, we live with this ambiguity every day under the illusion that all is just the way it should be and always will be.

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But we can never know what is right ahead of us, when the dust and debris will create chaos in our life. We can’t anticipate everything. And we can’t necessarily hurry through the life-is-under-construction experience either. We just stay the road, moving forward cautiously and courageously.

I reflected on this dream when I had the opportunity to drive country roads this past weekend—a favorite soul-comforting practice I do for myself. I love the slow, sauntering, stop-the-car-and-take-a-picture-on-the-side-of-the-road-in-solitude moments.  I must admit, though, this past weekend there were too many obligations on my calendar and the sauntering was at a quicker pace than I like.

In Nebraska, it’s get-those-tractors-out-of-the-barn season; and if you’ve never driven behind a tractor, they drive verrrry slow, kicking up a bunch of dust (God bless the driver’s corn-planting souls). There is no driving closely behind a tractor.  You won’t go anywhere fast and you can’t see a darn thing. One must be patient.

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It made me think of my dream. Drive slow, be cautious, move forward and wait for the dust to settle. With a little patience one can see what otherwise might be overlooked. One can see more clearly when the dust has settled. I think this is true for country roads and for life. I’m waiting for the dust to settle…

I share with you some of the views from my country road drives near Schuyler and Columbus, Nebraska. Happy dreams, slow-sauntering and blessings on your journey this week! May the dust settle quickly. 

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. – Isaiah 43:2

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“…if you know and have been affected by your dreams you will feel in yourself a thread of meaning and purpose that is part of something much bigger than yourself.” -John A. Sanford, Dreams: God’s Forgotten Language

For more blog posts on Country Roads.   

 

In God’s World, Every Day is Earth Day

For Earth day, I was invited to write an article for the April 2016 SoulCollage® newsletter, SoulCollage® Community Update, reflecting on how creating with images of nature can cultivate a sense of gratitude for God’s creation  and, ultimately, impact how we protect our earth’s resources. It’s an honor to share it with SoulFully You readers as well:

Capture

As Earth Day (April 22) approaches, I’ve been noticing that images of nature appear in nearly every one of my SoulCollage® cards. Plants and animals, water and fire; the diamond and the rough ground-rugged, rocky, sandy, earthy. Trees-naked and blooming, knotted and gnarled branches. Streams or floods of light and all things celestial-moonrises, sunsets, stars, planets, wide open sky. And every color of the rainbow-red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet, and each color in between.
My Fairy World
by Jodi Blazek Gehr

These SoulCollage® pictures have been calling me to stand up, pay attention, listen, prayerfully consider, and take action. They have encouraged me to reflect on my role in creation – how I enrich, nurture and care for our earth and all that draws life from it.

I Am One Who innocently, carefully, lightly treads through my part of creation, where I have been planted. I am as little as the lily pads and as vast as the stars and planets. I am a part of the whole, keeping balance on a very small twig of space and time. I am embraced, protected, held up by the wings of love.

We think of fairies as little nature spirits, without realizing that as human beings, we are ourselves nature spirits! It is nearly impossible to separate ourselves from our environment. We breathe the exhalations of trees. Our bodies go through similar seasons of new cells birthing, old cells dying and being shed. Our bodies are in a constant process of re-creating, living and dying, using the minerals, water, and earth from plants and animals and returning again to dust.

Spending time in and seeing the beauty of nature has been for me the first step to taking action to protect it. I see myself as responsible to and for the small space in which I live. My seemingly insignificant efforts-planting flowers and trees, recycling paper and plastic, remembering to take my own bag shopping, using energy-saving light bulbs, buying gifts that are consumable, not buying products that use excessive packaging -can have an impact that reaches far beyond my little place and time. My physical body is not the whole of creation, but my spirit is vast, and my actions leave an impression.

The images of nature hold meaning for my life. When I see a tree, I also see growth, changing seasons, pruning, the effect of time.  I see roots intermingled, each tree surviving and thriving because of the other. I connect to my process of self-discovery and growth, my inward journey that is beautiful and painful, at times agonizingly slow and, at the same time, too quick.

Surrender to Creation
by Jodi Blazek Gehr

I Am One Who believes in the divine birthing of our planet and the life-force that is poured out for us by our mere existence in this dynamic, evolving, growing, breathing earth home. I Am One Who exists as part of this environment, receiving the mysterious flow of energy and outpouring of nourishment with open hands. I bow my head at the splendor of shades and shapes, the rebirth of nature through the sacred spirals of the seasons, the purpose and patterns that are sometimes evident and always sought after.

I believe we are dying inside when we don’t spend time in nature, whether in stillness or activity. If we don’t get outside and enjoy nature, we don’t realize it is hurting and needs our care. We run the risk of seeing earth as existing only to meet our needs, rather than seeing our role as caretaker of the earth.

“Unless we begin to align ourselves with nature, nature will be endangered and our own lives with it. Our own souls with it, in fact. We are here as part of creation, not as consumers of it. We are here to care for this planet, not to exploit it. We are here to find our proper place in it, to grow with it spiritually as well as physically.” 

-Joan Chittister, Author, Two Dogs and a Parrot: What Our Animal Friends Can Teach Us About Life.

My Source Card: Let There Be Light by Jodi Blazek Gehr

I Am One Who, in darkness, is breathed into being and held in the light. Leaf or life-all is dependent on the Light.

Creating with images of nature can influence our sense of gratitude for God’s creation, our sense of oneness with nature and, ultimately, how we respond to the call to conserve and save our earth’s resources. My SoulCollage® cards have heightened my awareness for my role, no matter how insignificant or great, in the care of creation. This earth is my home. I have been brought into being to do my part.

So how am I going to celebrate this Earth Day? I will spend time in thanksgiving, honoring that in God’s world every day is Earth Day. I will remember my place on the planet, my role in respecting the earth. I will take a walk. I will look up at the sky. I will touch the ground.  I will enjoy the many colors of creation, particularly the spring purpling. I agree with Alice Walker: this is where our contribution begins – noticing.

“I think it pisses God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it.” 

– Alice Walker, The Color Purple

Jodi Blazek Gehr is a high school Business teacher, SoulCollage® Facilitator and retreat leader. She writes a blog called SoulFully You exploring and encouraging creativity and spirituality through a variety of prayerful, creative and contemplative practices.  Jodi is a Benedictine Oblate at Christ the King Priory in Schuyler, Nebraska, a mother, wife, and friend.

Last year, SoulFully You readers were challenged to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled,  “Soul Collage® and the Environment”To view all Earth Day entries, including cards and responses from readers, and the research paper that Jessica submitted for her Environmental Politics class at Nebraska Wesleyan University, see Earth Day blog entries.

God’s Blessings for Earth Day and Every Day!

 

Protectors of Creation: An Earth Day Challenge

Seeing the beauty of nature is the first step to taking action to protect it. Unless we can appreciate the oneness we have with creation, we will do very little to protect it.

“Let us be protectors of creation, protectors of God’s plan inscribed in nature, protectors of one another and of the environment.” –Pope Francis

earth day creation 1.jpg

For Earth Day last year, SoulFully You readers were challenged to share their love of nature using images and creativity for a project that my daughter and I collaborated on titled,  “Soul Collage® and the Environment”.  To view all Earth Day entries, including cards and responses from readers, and the research paper that Jessica submitted for her Environmental Politics class at Nebraska Wesleyan University, see Earth Day blog entries.

Earth day card 2

For Earth day this year, I have been invited to write an article for the April 2016 SoulCollage® newsletter, SoulCollage® Community Update, reflecting on how creating with images of nature can impact and influence our sense of gratitude for God’s creation, our sense of belonging in and oneness with nature and, ultimately, how we respond to the call to conserve and save our earth’s resources.

I would love your insight and feedback! Please consider sharing your reaction to the SoulCollage® cards posted on this page by responding to any or all of the writing prompts.

  1. What is the effect of one (or more) cards on you?
  2. What does it say to you about God’s creation?
  3. Consider writing an “I am one who” statement or using a card to pray with or meditate on during this week. Does the meaning of the card change or deepen as you “read” it differently?
  4. How does this blog and/or the images inspire you to action?  Consider how you might conserve and save earth’s resources.
  5. What inner shifts or feelings arise when you contemplate your responses.
  6. Be creative.  Give yourself time to savor the images. Watch and listen for what bubbles up within.

earth day my fairy world card 3

Share your writing in the comments, send through Facebook messages or email jodigehr@aol.com. Also consider creating your own card and sharing how that process impacted you.

earth day card 4 just sit

“Because all creatures are connected, each must be cherished with love and respect, for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.” Pope Francis, Laudato Si

earth day card 5

 

Always We Begin Again

st ben begin again

“Always we begin again.” –St. Benedict

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

mercy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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”

Why I Teach

Childhood Dreams

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

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

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

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

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