New and Improved: Always We Begin Again

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.

always 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.

Mercy

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.

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Mercy SoulCollage Card

Gentle

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

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“Hang It Up” SoulCollage Card

Cushion

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 Wilde Read more at 2018 Word of the Year…drumroll, please

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Cushion SoulCollage Card–Word for 2018

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!

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I am FREE!

 

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.

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