Benediction of the Trees

Profoundly impacted by the lyrics and vocals of “Benediction of the Trees”,  written and performed by Derek Dibbern, I share his music and also images of trees I’ve taken through the years in different seasons and from various states and countries.

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Derek and I met at St. Benedict Center several years ago and our paths continue to cross–we’ve been in the same space for Zen meditation, Catholic Mass, my school classroom, as well as local bars and coffee shops where he has performed. Deeply spiritual and always seeking, Derek is a student of inspirational and recreational tree climbing at Tree Climbing Planet in Oregon. He dedicates the song to his teacher, Tim Kovar, and “the many woodland creatures that have held us aloft in our arboreal adventures.”

This song is a prayer. It is recognition that Nature blesses us with trees for our healing, enjoyment, leisure, and protection. Our very breath is dependent on the Benediction of the Trees.

Benediction of the Trees

From the Heart to the Heavens
Rooted in the Earth
Branching out above us
Healing what was hurt

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Reaching down to lift us
Swing us in the breeze
the air we breathe She gives us
Benediction of the Trees

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Home before our houses
Cornered us inside
Gentle arms around us
Above the rising tide

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Can you hear them calling?
Like music in a dream
The leaves are always falling
A Benediction from the Trees

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A shout becomes a whisper
A Sermon into Song
It’s useless to resist her
She’s where we all belong

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In our Sanctuary Forest
Beneath the Pleiades
Cicadas in the chorus
Benediction to the Trees

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As the moon reflects the sunlight
From a million miles away
I’ll try to get the words right
So you can hear her say

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In a melody familiar
That brings us to our knees
In Liturgy peculiar
Benediction to the Trees

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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”

Bridges Photo Exhibit: 150 years, 93 counties, and my favorite place!

It’s finally here…Nebraska’s 150th birthday! And I can finally share the photograph of Christ the King Priory that is in  The “Bridges” Sesquicentennial Traveling Photo Exhibit.

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I submitted five photos of Christ the King Priory to a photography contest called Bridges, sponsored by Hildegard Center for the Arts, to highlight historic treasures in all 93 counties to celebrate the Sesquicentennial, or 150th birthday of Nebraska. Photographs 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.

I entered the following photographs of Christ the King Priory, the Benedictine monastery where my favorite monks live, to represent Colfax County.

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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 15 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

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

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 celebrated 1200 years of prayer and work last summer.

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You can see all of the winners, a virtual photo exhibit, a digital catalog of all photos, lesson plans and more at the Hildegard Center for the Arts website. The traveling exhibit schedule is:

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, a new blog/website, BeingBenedictine.com.

For more information about Benedictine spirituality Fr. Mauritius Wilde, former 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 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.  

Seeing With New Eyes

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. –Marcel Proust

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Photography is my hobby. Maybe a professional photographer would take issue with me for using the word “photography”.  I have no professional training. I haven’t taken any adult education classes, even though it’s on my want-to-do-that-one-of-these-days list. I did take a one-hour training session that was offered free when my husband, Joe, purchased our camera. But I don’t remember much. 😦

We bought a brand name camera with lots of bells and whistles and a higher-than-amateur-photographer price tag to take photos of our daughter playing high school sports.

Our thinking: she’s our only child and she’s only in high school sports one time.  We need to not screw up these special moments with a cheap camera. Joe also thought he might take up the hobby and I thought he could use one, so spending money on a pretty awesome camera was justifiable on two fronts.Desktop6

We loved the click-click-click feature of the camera (the official name escapes me). We were able to capture every volleyball or tennis serving stance that a player could have and lots of high-fives, action shots and team pictures.

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We really enjoyed capturing these moments, but long story, short….Joe never took up the hobby, but I did (he’s into technology, so it’s okay). I took my camera (yes, it became my camera) when I went on monthly retreats to St. Benedict Center and on my country road drives.  I found myself needing the camera next to me on the front seat, stopping ever half-mile or so to capture another beautiful view. And now that we live on the edge of town with magnificent views, the camera has a permanent place by our back door; no shelf in the closet needed.

A slide show of photos from our backyard taken in January and February, 2016:

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Photography is a way to slow down and gaze deeply, noticing things missed in our rushed lives. –Christine Valters Painter, Eyes of the Heart

But back to the one-hour crash course in using a camera—both Joe and I could have taken the course after purchasing the camera. I can’t remember how long we had the camera before I eventually signed up for the course (more than 2 years and less than 5, that’s all I can narrow it down to), but eventually I did attend, albeit sans camera.

Yup, I went to a camera training session without said camera, in a typical hurry. Luckily, I was close to home, sped (of course) back to get it and ended up missing the first 10 minutes of the training. And being slightly embarrassed that I didn’t appear to be serious about my “new” camera.

Bottom line, I’m not sure I really want to take the time to learn about my camera. I say I do, but really it’s about enjoying finding just the right moments to capture. It’s more about what I’ve learned by NOT learning.  It’s about receiving.

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“It takes time and slowness to see the holy, shimmering presence beneath the surface of things.” -Christine Valters Painter, Eyes of the Heart

This is what I have learned through photography: to slow down, to be more aware of details, to spend time doing things I enjoy, to be less goal-oriented and more process-oriented, to enjoy the beauty of simple things, to not be in a hurry, to take more time to appreciate the surprises of a new country road or the change of seasons. I have learned to see with new eyes. 

contemplative photographyIt’s taken me back to my youth as well. Ever since I witnessed Poloraids mysteriously develop in front of my eyes or when I managed to squeak out 25 exposures from 24-exposure Kodak Instamatic film (at a John Denver Concert), I’ve enjoyed the thrill of capturing moments through photos.

I remember doing career research in 9th grade. The three careers I researched were: teacher, photographer and reporter. Interestingly, my first career out of college was not in any of these areas; it was in advertising sales. I thought there was greater income potential, or at least that was what the research said, and I listened to the advice of others. But these interests never faded.

I am grateful I’ve journeyed back to the passions of my youth through hobbies (writing this blog and photography) and a nearly 20 year teaching career. I believe those passions were planted in my heart from the beginning. And my heart really knew it.

“…Our first kind of vision is what we see through the lens. The second kind of vision involves all of the thoughts and judgements we make as we compose an image…The third kind of vision moves us beyond these, so that the camera draws us into an experience of presence with this moment now, and it becomes a prayer.”-Christine Valters Paintner, Eyes of the Heart

This picture-taking, photography hobby is not as much about the product, the photo I take, but the process. The sense of adventure and creativity bring a deep joy of celebrating and capturing a scene that will never quite be that same way again.  What started as photography for memory-documentation-purposes turned into something much more joyful and creative and, even, prayerful. Some call it “contemplative photography”. And one does not need a fancy camera to go there. My iPhone can do the trick.

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“It cultivates what I call sacred seeing or seeing with the “eyes of the heart” (Ephesians 1:18)….This practice focuses us on receiving images, rather than taking or making images.-Christine Valters Painter, Eyes of the Heart

So I share some of my hobby, my prayer, from this past weekend: country roads between Lincoln and Schuyler, Nebraska, mainly in an area referred to as the “Bohemian Alps” and on retreat at St. Benedict Center. It’s a colorless season right now in Nebraska—no green or gold or red or violet, just various shades of brown, white, gray and black, and on a good day, the big, blue Nebraska sky.

A sampling of photos taken at St. Benedict Center during a contemplative prayer retreat last weekend:

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There is something so striking in a tree without leaves. Winter trees show what they are really made of. You see every branch and twig, twists and turns and gnarls, how it’s structured, how it carries its weight, hinting at the strength of its roots. Stark, clean, uncovered. The simplicity of a naked tree leaves me speechless. I lose track of time when a tree calls to be seen. (Also see The Same Two Trees)

Photos taken in Butler and Saunders County, the “Bohemian Alps” this February 2016:

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 “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret: It is only with the heart that one can see clearly; What is essential is invisible to the eye.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

A new way of seeing what might have never been noticed-this is the gift of contemplative photography. It is when silence and solitude and creativity and nature collide into a oneness that can only be received, not pursued. Take your camera and hit a country road one of these days. I promise you’ll see differently. See more blog posts on Country Roads and Contemplative Photography.

Let me seek, then, the gift of silence, and poverty, and solitude, where everything I touch is turned into prayer: where the sky is my prayer, the birds are my prayer, the wind in the trees is my prayer, for God is in all.

— Thomas Merton , “Thoughts In Solitude”

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