Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat

Sprigs of Rosemary—A SoulFully You Online Advent Retreat

Over the next several days, I will share excerpts from a recent Advent retreat I was honored to lead. Ten women joined me on a journey to explore the significance of seeking, being and finding sanctuary.

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The inspiration for the retreat came from the lyrics of this song, Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer.

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Sanctuary was written by Carrie Newcomer after a conversation with her friend Parker J. Palmer.  She asked him, “What can we do when we are personally or politically heartbroken?” He responded that we take sanctuary. We gather with those we love.  We remember, we share stories or we sit in silence until we can go on. There is time for positive action, to do what needs to be done, but there are also times when we rest in the arms of what most sustains us.

The retreat, Sprigs of Rosemary, was an opportunity to creatively and prayerfully ponder what sustains us—a special time to gather with kindred spirits and create our own sanctuary. Consider asking a circle of friends to join you for this online contemplative retreat…or if that doesn’t work, simply carve out time for yourself, a little each day, to practice Lectio Divina with song lyrics, poetry or scripture and to express yourself creatively through SoulCollage®.

Contemplative Session 1: Listen to Sanctuary by Carrie Newcomer.

Practice Lectio Divina with the lyrics of this song. What words or phrases speak to your heart? Do any of these words or phrases resonate with you?

Refuge (safe, rest, quiet)   —   Haven in the storm   —   Fire (all but gone, embers warm) —   Sprigs of Rosemary (remember)   —   Sanctuary   —   Carry on   —   Knees (ground, dropped me)   —   Us and them —   Circle of friends

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Consider what SANCTUARY means to you.

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What do you think is the significance of SPRIGS OF ROSEMARY? Consider some of the historical uses of rosemary.

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Create a question or two to guide you during this online retreat. As you consider words that touched your heart, contemplate the following questions.

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Create a SoulCollage® card with images that speak to SANCTUARY or other words that resonate with you and/or questions that you would like to explore more deeply.

Collage is a creative and intuitive act of cutting and pasting images. A collage is easy to create and, yet, so powerful. Images can guide you to a new awareness and reveal a deeper level of thought and feeling. Gather magazine images that you gravitate to. Cut the images out of their original context and imaginatively place them in a new context. It can often feel that an image selects you. Play with different backgrounds. Let your intuition speak to you. When you have enough images, start to frame or fit them together, arranging the images into a collage. SoulCollage® cards are 5 x 8, but use what feels comfortable for you. When it feels finished, glue your images down. If you have never tried creating a collage, you will be amazed at what you can learn from this process. More on that later.

See also Making a SoulCollage® Card in 5 Easy Steps

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A collage of SoulCollage cards I have made through the years. There is no right or wrong when creating. Just let your intuition be your guide. Let your heart speak through images.

May your contemplation of song and lyric be a rich experience. Feel free to ask questions and/or share your insights in the comment posts below.

Session 2 coming soon.

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God does so much and asks so little

There could be many titles to this blog post—
God Does Much And Asks So Little,
Aha (!) Moments are God Moments,
God is in Control,
Queen of Procrastination

aha moment god momentYup, that’s me, queen of procrastination. It probably doesn’t matter what the title is, but I will likely spend as much time considering the title as writing this post. I have to get back to my studies so, of course, this is a perfect time for the cloud of procrastination to cover all reasonable attempts to get something done.

But I had an aha (!) moment and I have to capture it. Technically, it’s two aha (!) moments that converge, but anyway, here goes—a creative attempt at procrastination cloaked in inspired productivity.

The past several days I have read all four Gospels of the New Testament—Matthew, Mark, Luke, AND John. And not just the miracles or the well-known parables, but from beginning to end; every chapter, every verse. And for each of the Gospels, I’ve also read a chapter in my textbook, The New Testament by Stephen L. Harris, for a class I’m taking at Creighton University. Each chapter comments on key topics, themes, author, date and place of composition, various sources used, the intended audience and interpretations.

I don’t have the words yet for all that I’ve learned, but that’s also why I’m procrastinating. I need to find some words (very soon) to write an 1800 word paper, due in 48 hours, responding to this prompt: Explain the story of the life of Jesus as portrayed in the Gospel of John, and compare it to either Matthew or Luke and how this might relate to ministry today.

I trust the words will come, but this first. Here goes….

Surprisingly (to me) each of the four Gospels share a unique portrayal of Jesus, his life, death, resurrection, and ultimate purpose of all of the above. Ninety percent of the content in the Gospel of John is not in the other three synoptic Gospels. Who knew?

It’s hard to capture the diversity of the Gospels with just daily readings and/or what one hears on Sunday mornings. The Jesus that is portrayed in the Gospel of John parallels some of the Wisdom speeches in the Hebrew Bible.

This is where the aha (!) moment comes in.  As I read through the selections from Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Wisdom of Solomon, I am overwhelmed by how much Wisdom, the Spirit of God, does for me:

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Wisdom searches the streets for those willing to receive her.  ~  Wisdom lifts her voice, cries out, stands at the crossroads, calls, appeals, speaks clearly, bestows, shows the way, fashions, plays, delights, covers, decrees, remains, takes root among the people, loves what is good and guides.  ~  Wisdom has ability, understanding, power.   ~    Wisdom makes all things new, enters into holy souls and labors at our side.  ~  Wisdom is intelligent, holy, unique, made up of many parts, subtle, free-moving, lucid, spotless, clear, invulnerable, kindly towards men, all-powerful, all-surveying.  ~   Wisdom is the brightness that streams from everlasting light, the flawless mirror of the active power of God and the image of his goodness.   ~   Wisdom permeates all intelligent, pure and delicate spirits.

And this is what Wisdom desires from me:

Listen! Love me. Search me. Keep my ways. Come to me. Eat your fill of my fruit. Feed on me. Drink from me.

Wow. God does so much for me. And asks so little.

While on retreat this summer, the spiritual director that I met with daily asked me to reflect on what God is responsible for or in control of versus what I am responsible for or in control of. As I reflected on each of my thoughts and actions throughout the day, I created this list:

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At the end of the day, it was apparent to me that very little is in my control and that very much comes from God.

God, or Spirit, is the very breath of life. I am always and forever dependent on the gift of each moment. And I am always and forever responsible for my reaction to this great gift.

God is the creator and great mover of all. My response to this is to be authentic, prayerful, grateful, committed, attentive, and discerning.  I am responsible for my actions, thoughts, and response to God and others.

I am not in control and never have been. If ever things felt “under control” or to my liking, it was just the way it happened to be, not because I had commanded it. It is a freedom to know that I don’t cause order or chaos. My role, what I am called to do, is to listen to, search for and follow God.  The Spirit of God proclaims, “Those who love me I love, and those who search for me find me .” -Proverbs 8:17

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God does so much and asks so little.

“Wisdom is both the means by which God creates and the channel through whom he communicates to humankind.”  -The New Testament, Stephen L. Harris

Note: This post is about 800 words so I’m hopeful that I can crank this paper out in a few days. 

Sneak-a-peak at Luke vs. John: An 1800ish word paper

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)

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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?

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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.

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

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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.

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“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.

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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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Many Ways To Pray: Walking A Labyrinth

“There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” –Rumi

There are many ways to pray—in song, spoken or written words, silence, creativity, nature and movement, just to mention a few. Paul recommends to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5:17), which is only possible if we are able to connect with our Creator in a variety of ways. We are meant to engage our senses, our whole bodies, in prayer.

I’ve come to appreciate this about the Catholic Mass, even if visitors might think there is a lot of up and down. We genuflect, sit, stand, kneel and bow. These gestures, postures or movement help to bring our whole being into prayerful expression—raising our hands when saying the “Our Father”, making the sign of the cross or receiving the Eucharist allows us to use our bodies in prayer.

lab signIn addition, walking the stations of the cross or a labyrinth, taking a nature hike, or practicing yoga or tai chi are prayerful forms of movement that engage our bodies while quieting our mind. 

This summer I had the opportunity to pray in many ways while attending an eight-day Ignatian retreat at the Creighton University Retreat Center. Each day, for about an hour, I met with a spiritual director to receive guidance and to share my faith journey; the remainder of the day was spent reflecting on these discussions and praying. One of the ways that I prayed was by walking a labyrinth.

“A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a symbol of life without meaning, it is an agent of confusion, deception with dead ends that lead you nowhere. But a labyrinth is a symbol of a life of deeper meaning, an on-going sacred journey leading us inward, outward and to greater wholeness.”Carrie Newcomer

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There is a clear design to a labyrinth with only one path to reach the center, albeit not direct, and the same path to walk  from the center outwards. Bringing one’s prayer to the labyrinth helps engage the mind, body and spirit.

“The labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world…Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual discipline that invites us to trust the path, to surrender to the many turns our lives take, and to walk through the confusion, the fear, the anger, and grief that we cannot avoid experiencing as we live our earthly lives.”  Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress

Often before starting a labyrinth walk, I offer an intention, ask a question, or prayerfully surrender a situation to God. Sometimes I carry a SoulCollage® card with me as I journey towards the center. Because there is only one path inward, the mind can let go of how one while arrive at the center. It is a certainty that I will get there eventually. I practice trusting that wherever God takes me, I will be led both inward to the center and back out. I can settle into a knowing that God is with me, that God accompanies.

This walk, or journey inward, is a metaphor for life—really all situations, relationships and decisions are a journey. So often we don’t know where we are headed, even with the best of plans or intentions. With a labyrinth walk, one has the experience of letting go of their own plan—surrendering and trusting that the center will be reached.  It is nearly impossible to rush through a labyrinth. Just imagine what that might look like at the turning points. It is actually dizzying to make the turns, circling around from one quadrant to another, if moving too fast. The best option for the labyrinth (and perhaps for all of life) is to move in a rhythmic, slow, meditative walk.

Despite the appearance of a dead end, or another switchback, the journey continues inward and will ultimately arrive at the center. The route isn’t always clear. I often wonder if I somehow lost my place. Am I just walking in circles? There may be a bit of anxiety, but trusting that the path is the right one brings freedom. If this can be transferred to our life’s journey, imagine what that freedom might be like! Wherever God takes me, whether I am led inward or back out, when I feel I’ve lost my way or the walk feels longer than it should, I am reminded that God holds the divine design to our personal journey.

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When I arrive at the center of the labyrinth, I surrender my intention, rest and pray. Recently I learned the labyrinth in the Chartres Cathedral is situated where the womb of Mary would be if the cathedral itself symbolized the head, arms and body of Mary (see Bishop Robert Barron’s description of the Chartres Cathedral and the image of Mary). It is a beautiful image to bring one’s prayer and concerns to the womb of Mary, surrendering into Jesus who surrendered for us. God makes our offering into something new; through our surrender, something in us can be birthed or transformed. The labyrinth, of course, is a symbol of this—we can surrender anytime. We are called to, as Jesus said, “Follow me”.

 

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Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth completed in 1220, France

 

Bishop Robert Barron describes the stained-glass window, perfectly shaped to reflect on the labyrinth, as a symbol of heavenly light shining on the womb of Mary, receiving the light of Christ as the bearer of the divine word. Spending time in the center of the labyrinth, we can make personal Mary’s acceptance, “Be it done unto me (Luke 1:38).” We surrender as Mary did when she received the news from the angel Gabriel in the Annunciation.

“Growth is a spiral process, doubling back on itself, reassessing and regrouping.”-Julia Cameron 

The journey outward is a continued expression of the prayerful surrender. It occurred to me while walking outward that I was moving more quickly. I was in a bit of a hurry even. Almost as if to say “I surrender, but please, answer my prayer quickly” or “There, I did it! I surrender. Done!”  I am aware that I prefer difficult situations to be “fixed” now. I want a resolution; I don’t want to wait for an answer or solution. I don’t want the pain of the journey. I want to get straight to the center and back out again. Of course, the hurrying really doesn’t work. Staying attentive and slowly walking the walk is the only way to stay in God’s presence, to truly surrender. 

Walking the labyrinth brings new insights each time—about the process itself, as a metaphor for life’s journey, and about the situation in need of prayer. Praying while walking a labyrinth can be combined with many other forms of prayer as well.

 

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A SoulCollage® card I made to represent a recent dream.

 

 I love labyrinths and am so excited about one being built at St. Benedict Center! “Its model is the famous labyrinth in the Cathedral of Chartres, France.  When the Holy Land was closed to pilgrims in the Middle Ages, labyrinths abounded in the churches of Europe.  They were used to symbolically represent the pilgrimage to the Holy Land.  Our life is a pilgrimage, a journey to our eternal home with God in heaven.” –Father Thomas Leitner The labyrinth will be completed by spring 2018.

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Consider attending a retreat I am leading hosted by St. Benedict Center called Living in the Fullness of God, October 27-28, 2018. Through prayer, we grow in the fullness of relationship with God. “The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything” (Julian of Norwich). What does it mean to live life to its fullest? Is it possible to always live with joy? Explore the paradox of embracing joy and sadness, light and darkness, birthing and dying, God in all and God within as we explore our greatest joy—that we are created in the image of God and we are created to create! Embrace the fullness of God’s gift of creative prayer including lectio divina, SoulCollage®, guided meditation and a labyrinth walk.

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The Fullness of Joy

The fullness of joy is to behold God in everything. –Julian of Norwich

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Life is a paradoxical journey, embracing joy and sadness, light and darkness, birthing and dying, God in all and God within.  This tension is held, sometimes with more trust than others. I find myself wondering in the tough times, is it really possible to still live with joy? Must I wait until “things get better” to feel the joy I long for?

In a previous post, I asked readers, what is joy?  Specifically, I posed these questions: How do you define joy? What brings you the deepest joy? How do you cultivate joy? What is the source of joy? Is there a difference between childhood joy and grown-up joy? (Read the responses at The Source of All Our Joy!)

But recently I’ve been contemplating, can one feel joy even in the very tough times, during times of adversity, uncertainty, change, or emotional pain?  Is it possible? And, if so, how does one DO this? 

I know I have held both joy and sadness together. It is bittersweet. It is not the ego’s preferable way to experience joy; it feels like joy is being sabotaged. Of course, I want ALL joy. I know this desire is an extension of the either/or world that we live in. We prefer joy over sadness, not joy AND sadness.  Despite my desires, I believe that life can be both/and, both joy and sadness. I believe (I have to believe) that we must learn to hold the two together.

But this I wonder: Is it possible when there is not something to feel joyful about to still live with joy? My faith tells me it is possible, but how? What do you think?

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Card name: We all have a story

“There’s a ‘time to weep and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to dance’ (Eccles. 3:4). But what I want to tell you is that these times are connected. Mourning and dancing are part of the same movement of grace. Somehow, in the midst of your tears, a gift of life is given. Somehow, in the midst of your mourning, the first steps of the dance take place. The cries that well up from your losses belong to the song of praise. Those who cannot grieve cannot be joyful. Those who have not been sad cannot be glad. Quite often, right in the midst of your crying, your smile comes through your tears. And while you are in mourning, you already are working on the choreography of your dance. Your tears of grief have softened your spirit and opened up the possibility to say ‘thanks.’ You can claim your unique journey as God’s way to mold your heart and bring you joy.” -Henri Nouwen

Using the SoulCollage® image above, consider what your story is. There is a story behind everything–what looks like joy, may quite possibly hold more painful memories than one might realize.  How can we find joy in growing older? What does joy look like to you? Please share in the comments! Or create your own SoulCollage® card.

Related blog post: A Story Behind Everything

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”

SoulFully You: 2015 in Review

Happy New Year from SoulFully You!butterfly no logo Thank you for subscribing to and sharing my posts during 2015. Your comments and feedback have been encouraging.

Thanks to you, SoulFully You was viewed 6200 times by over 2500 readers in 39 countries during 2015. Readers have found SoulFully You through Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, SoulCollage, Becoming Minimalist, Jumping Tandem, Abbey of the Arts, St. Benedict Center and Google. It’s been a serendipitous blessing to connect with people around the world and to stumble upon new readers in my hometown, Lincoln, Nebraska.

SoulFully You, the name of this blog /hobby/ business/vocation /passion /endeavor is about my own pursuit of a creative, spiritual  and authentic life and my desire to accompany others on that journey. It’s about listening and praying and living a creative, purposeful, passionate life.

It’s about becoming SoulFully You. So thank you for accompanying me.DSC_0323a

There is no formula for what and when I share. There are no strategically-planned weekly posts (who would want notifications or email from me every week?). It may seem a little haphazard to the reader (and even within the writer, ha!), but it’s important for me to wait for inspiration and to listen for guidance about what to write; to be soulful about what I share.  I know when it feels right; and I know when it feels forced or unnatural. I’m not going to “leap ahead of grace” (quoting Sr. Helen Prejean) when it comes to SoulFully You.

SoulFully You, the blog, was birthed to connect with others who find DSC_0730SoulCollage® a creative and prayerful form of self-expression and to share information about retreats and workshops. 

But it has transformed into something more for me: a way to reflect, grow spirituality and express myself creatively. Both words (writing/reading) and images (SoulCollage®) resonate with me; I surrender to the synergy that is greater than either practice alone; I listen and learn and follow my intuition.   I write about what I am passionate about, often prompted through SoulCollage®I am one who” statements; send it out into the universe; and hope that it resonates with a few people.  I have faith that what I create will be a spark of light for the right people, at the right time.

WordPress, the blog platform used for SoulFully You, prepares an annual report, basically a report card, for every blog they host. The cool thing is that it’s just about my blog…no comparisons, no goal setting, no pressure to increase blog traffic…just a good old-fashioned report. It honors what IS and I appreciate that. 

According to WordPress, the top 5 posts on SoulFully You were:

1. Giving up to Gain: Selling, Decluttering and the 68506

2. It’s About Time We Start Sharing the Same Breath

3. Selling Our House: Surrender to Surprise

4. Decluttering: Taking Off the Top Layer

5.  A Picture Can Reveal the Soul: Using Images in the Classroom

Decluttering and selling our house was a defining element of 2015. Writing about it was tonic, and accountability, for the soul…and it seemed to have resonated with others–Google search brings a new reader almost daily for those posts. I haven’t written about our move (and the downstairs storage room that affirms the decluttering process as yet unfinished), but I hope to bring this theme back to life in 2016…life just got complicated during the process.

In the midst of moving to a temporary dwelling while our new house was finished, my mother-in-law (pictured) became ill, was hospitalized for several weeks and then suddenly passed away.

Our hearts are broken. Perhaps the greatest stress and loss in our lives, combined with sending our senior-in-college daughter to Washington DC for an internship, IMG_8622starting a new school year myself and then finally moving for the last time, has thrown us into survival mode for the second half of 2015. Lots of tasks are still on the list of things-to-do.

Creating and writing about other topics has been helpful and healing, but likely a bit of avoidance as well. I hope to write about my mother-in-law when the time feels right. In the meantime writing and reflecting about spirituality and Soul Collage®, creativity and country drives, friends and family has been a balm for my soul.

Some of my favorite 2015 posts

love and marriageSome of my favorite posts are about my husband and daughter. Joe and I celebrated 30  years of marriage this year and Jessica is just one semester away from being a college graduate.  See A Marriage Made of Moments and Jessica Becoming.

Driving country roads is contemplative prayer for me. I get lost in the beauty and I know I am in the presence of God. See Country Road Contemplative (also shared on Abbey of the Arts Monk in the World guest blog), The Same Two Trees, The Grandeur of God, Signs on Country Roads.

Using SoulCollage® to honor and remember friends and family is not just an option for me….I have to, I am compelled. This year I created cards and wrote about Cece, a grandma collageneighbor who was like a grandma to us (See Cece: A Snow Day Reflection); my own grandma Helen Blazek (pictured) and what I learned about faith from her (See Images of Faith); and about my friend Judy, part of our Circle (See Circle of Friends), who also passed away in 2015.

Reading “Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are” by Deidra Riggs was a surreal experience. Being neighbors by chance, and having as much in common as different, brought the exciting opportunity to be on the launch team for her first (and likely not last) book. (See It’s About Time We Start Sharing the Same Breath and Every Little Thing).

And of course, writing and reflecting on the power of images and creativity is my afavorite topic to write about–in my job as a teacher, in my spiritual life, leading retreats (especially Full Moon retreats!) and in reflecting on nature and the environment. (See We are Moons, Not Suns; Living in the Fullness of God; Praying with Scissors; Why I Teach; Earth Gratitude; We are Made in the Image of God;  A Picture Can Reveal The Soul)

Some of the topics I hope to write about in 2016 are Benedictine spirituality (including obedience, stability and conversion of life….and what all of that really means for a “monk in the world“), Lectio and Visio Divina prayer practice, creating and reflecting on Community Suit (friends and family) SoulCollage cards®, being a Catholic-Come-Home, the on-going decluttering process and using SoulCollage® to celebrate Earth Day! Whatever it is, I shall wait for the Divine nudge and then hit PUBLISH. We’ll see how it goes.

Thank you for following SoulFully You! May 2016 bring you joy, reflection, peace, creativity and love!  Blessings, Jodi

For the official WordPress report card, see link below.

Here’s an excerpt:

A New York City subway train holds 1,200 people. This blog was viewed about 6,200 times in 2015. If it were a NYC subway train, it would take about 5 trips to carry that many people.

SoulFully You 2015 in Blogging Annual Report

 

Circle of Friends: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.

And let there be no purpose in friendship save the deepening of the spirit. ~Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet

Our Circle lost a dear sister this week.
DSC_1136aJudy passed away only a year or so after being diagnosed with a rare, incurable, fast-growing cancer. For the last several weeks of her life, Judy was unable to leave her bed and wanted
few visitors, but it was important for our Circle to continue sending our love and prayers. Even if we weren’t physically present, we wanted her to feel that we held her in our heart. Each of us committed to a day of the week that we would send Judy some kind of card, note or greeting.

Judy was a lover of SoulCollage®—she came to my first pilot retreat at St. Benedict Center and fell in love with the process. She started meeting weekly to cut, paste and create with our friend, Beth. The practice became a form of expression and prayer for her and she even shared it with her daughters and grandchildren on one of their last vacations together on Captiva Island. Making and sending a SoulCollage® card to honor Judy and our Circle was a form of creative prayer for me.

Continue reading “Circle of Friends: Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.”

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”

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