Many Ways to Pray: Take a Hike

always we begin againThere are many ways to pray. Really all of life can, and should, be a prayer. We are never not in connectedness with God, but it is in prayer that we become aware of this union even more.

Recently, I shared an experience of walking a labyrinth, an ancient portal to prayer that has only one distinct path on which to walk; it is not a maze as some misunderstand it. A maze typically has just one correct path, but it has many confusing choices and dead ends that lead to nowhere obliging one to make a decision about which path to take. One may have to “begin again” several times before completing.

St. Benedict, in his Rule, encourages his monks to always begin again. He knew there would be times when life, even our prayer life, could be more like a maze than a labyrinth. Despite its challenges, our maze-like experiences are a prayerful opportunity to practice awareness, patience, and gratitude. 

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I had this opportunity recently. Surrounded by the wooded hills of western Iowa at the Creighton University Retreat Center, I attended an eight-day silent Ignatian retreat. I was excited to take the loop hike that goes down to the Nishnabotna River. I love to be in nature and believe wholeheartedly, that “every time you admire something in nature, it’s a prayer to the Creator.”  (Vernon Harper)

trail map

Note the easy-to-read map: one can enter the loop hike from two different points and arrive back to nearly the same point.

I started from the north end of the property, but the path seemed overgrown in areas and I wondered if I was on the right trail. Soon enough, there is a fork where I could go right or left. I went right because it seemed the better path. Eventually,  I came to a very steep decline that I wasn’t sure I could navigate. Surely, I thought, I am on the wrong path.

Better safe than sorry, I hike back and take the left path instead. I hike and hike. I end up at yet another steep decline.  I’m no sissy (I have walked on a treadmill with a 10% incline for goodness sakes), but I think this might not be the right path either.  Tired and sweaty already, I decide it’s better to cut my losses and start out at the south end tomorrow where there might be a clearer path.

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It’s a new day…feeling good and my selfie shows it!  I begin again, this time from the other side of the property.  It was a much better trail. Birds chirping, deer scampering, butterflies flying and silence—this is the prayerful connecting-with-God-and-nature hike I was expecting.

Wait, what? Hmm, a choice of two paths—the lower trail or the River view trail. I choose the river view…the whole point of the hike, right?

Riverview sign

Wrong.  Note: this necessary decision is not on the map. I hike to the river view and sit for a moment on a bench to view a sliver of the river. Hiking to the left, I find an even steeper decline than the day before. Hiking to the right, a dead end.

trail dead end

I hike back to the original choice of trails and take the lower trail.

lower trail sign

I hike for about an hour (the time estimated for the hike) with many choices of trails (which I did not expect….remember, it’s a LOOP and not on the map). If there’s a wrong choice of trail to take, I take it.

I hit several dead ends: at the river, at a sign that reads “End of CU property”, at a few very steep inclines, and at a cave. My love of nature and the enjoyment of the journey is challenged. “Always we begin again” has been replaced with, “Will I ever get out of this maze?”deadend collage.jpg

I considered turning back, but I just couldn’t bring myself to “begin again” two days in a row.  It would take another hour to retrace my steps. Yesterday it was the right thing to begin again but today I need to focus on the present and future, and leave the past in the past. A lot like life, I think. “Always go forward and never turn back.” (St. Junípero Serra)

I consider walking the river until I  meet a road; thinking surely there will be a road eventually.  (So like some life situations: Can I just bail now?) I know this is the panic speaking so I retrace my steps back to a fork in trails and a sign that reads, “Upper Trail”.

Upper Trail is a hike up and up and up and up, likely one of the very steep trails I encountered the day before that I felt incapable of going down. I laugh. I take a short break for a few minutes…and then continue up and up and finally, I am on a walking path. I have to be close now. I see a shed. Wait, no, I don’t. Dear God, it’s a mirage. I laugh again at myself.

I consider taking an “after hike” selfie but know that it wouldn’t be web-worthy and would challenge the “sweat is good” attitude I’ve tried to attain. I realize I have seen NO ONE on the trail in over an hour. Have the others heard the trail isn’t really a loop? Thank God, I have my cell phone. Could I be found if I called for help? I don’t think it’s possible to die from thirst or hunger this close to….wait, I see a building. A real one this time.

I have arrived. Relief.

home

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”  -John Muir

I received more than I was seeking, no doubt. A simple loop hike turned into a frustrating and, in hindsight, funny experience.  I took only short hikes for quite a few days, but as the end of the retreat neared, I knew I needed to challenge myself to the “loop” again. Surely, it would be easier now that I had done it.

The trails were familiar so I trusted myself and the route I chose. I hiked this time with a new set of eyes. I noticed things I hadn’t before—the signs seemed more clear and logical, sounds from each of the birds were clearly unique, a turkey family trotted quickly into the trees, blue insects escaped into cracks in the dirt, and there were forks in the path I hadn’t noticed before. But, this time I felt more comfortable being adventurous and going down those uncertain paths.

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With experience behind me, I knew when I had come to the final fork in the trail. I hiked up the last hill and when I came out of the top, I realized, NO, that I was not at the end of the loop but at another offshoot! I laughed out loud. My confidence did not waiver; now I was able to trust where I was and navigate back to more familiar terrain.

trail options

Sometimes we must begin again. And when we do, we bring what we have learned from earlier efforts. I find this in my spiritual life as well. The more I pray, the more I trust. When I become afraid or anxious, I begin again. I go back to my faith, to prayer, and trust that God has been there before and always will be. I just need to begin again. 

When we finally broke our silence at the end of the retreat, I realized I was not the only one that had this experience. Everyone else had gotten lost in the woods too. Now isn’t that just like life? There are no new problems under the sun.

No one, not even our closest soul friends can “hike the loop” for us, but, thankfully, they share with us solace, encouragement, and prayers.  This journey is our own. We learn on the way. We are accompanied. And always we begin again

And for future hikes—this is a better idea of what the map should look like.trail map2

Recommended article: “How Hiking Can Help Your Spirituality“, by Megan Bailey at beliefnet.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Story Behind Everything

“However well satisfied you are with your own skill or intelligence,
never forget how much there is that remains unknown to you.”
-Imitation of Christ, Thomas à Kempis

There’s so much we don’t know, so much we don’t see, so much we can’t understand. There is a story behind everything and we aren’t always privy to it.

On a recent country drive, I stumbled upon a cemetery I had never seen before. It was an old cemetery surrounded by, likely, the original iron fence and arched gate.

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I find the old gate breathtaking: the rust over the exquisite spirals and twists on the finials and posts; the contrast of brown and green grasses; the juxtaposition of birth and death, new and old, all at once. I wonder: How many people have passed through that gate? How many tears shed at the graves of loved ones?  I wonder when flowers were last placed on a grave.

The gate remains locked now, and instead, a simpler entrance and a few graveled paths intersect to help visitors find their beloved. Only symbolic now, the fence and gate remain part of this sacred site and its story.

I continue my journey for miles down a country road with no houses, no people, and no other cars. Passing by a wooded area, I notice several old vehicles behind the limbs and brush, so easily missed that I turned around at the next intersection to drive by again. Taking a closer look from many angles and directions, I photographed the old truck. I wondered when it’s dying day had come and it was left to become part of the landscape. When had it last been driven to town? How many children had ridden in the back of the truck, wind blowing in their hair, or perhaps more recently, used it as a jungle gym? Continue reading “A Story Behind Everything”

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:

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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.

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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

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Earth Gratitude

earth day card jodi gehr

We need to care for the earth so that it may continue, as God willed, to be a source of life for the entire human family.
~Pope Francis

Card name: Earth Gratitude

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. The waters of life flow through us—cleansing, renewing, blessing us with existence. Nature gives to us without hesitation. I am one who receives with awe. Continue reading “Earth Gratitude”

In God’s world every day is Earth Day.

nature GodGod has cared for these trees, saved them from drought, disease, avalanches, and a thousand tempests and floods. But he cannot save them from fools. ~John Muir

Celebrate the 45th annual Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, by combining your love of nature and creativity in a project called “Soul Collage® and the Environment”.

Create a collage that represents your feelings toward our environment and/or your feeling about how humans interact with the environment.

Be creative!! Show your love, anger, doubt, concerns, joys, gratitude… however your creative spirit leads you. After you create your collage, post in the comments or email a picture and a few sentences explaining what it means to you: jodigehr@gmail.com OR jessicamgehr@gmail.com Continue reading “In God’s world every day is Earth Day.”

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