A Country Road Contemplative

I’m thrilled to have written a Monk in the World Guest Post at Christine Valters Paintner’s Abbey of the Arts website/blog. She is one of my favorite authors (The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul with Monastic Wisdom) and an inspiration for me to continue to learn more about creativity and prayer. My post, A Country Road Contemplative, is about the sacred pilgrimage of driving country roads.

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My country drives are a sacred experiencea contemplative, scenic journey through four counties of Nebraska. 

Driving country roads has become a pilgrimage of its own as I travel to St. Benedict Center, a Benedictine retreat center and monastery seventy miles northwest of my home. Once or twice a month, I receive spiritual direction, participate in or lead retreats, attend Oblate meetings or pray with the monks. It’s where I go to honor my “inner monk”, find peace and quiet, learn to live more holy and grow in love. It has become my spiritual home and a home-away-from-home.


Optimized-DSC_0471aInitially, the drive was a means to an end, an hour and a half that I endured to get to my spiritual oasis. 
For most of thirteen years, I’ve taken the most direct route via paved highway. Occasionally, I took a different route or explored shortcuts, attempting to shave minutes off the drive.

The most efficient shortcut requires traveling on ten miles of gravel roads through small towns with few houses, and long since closed grocery stores and taverns. Every mile or two, there is a farmhouse nestled in rolling hills (or on flat-as-pancakes plains; we have both in Nebraska), acres of crops, cattle and pig farms, old trucks and tractors, and farm dogs that run after my car, barking.

I begin to notice details—the color of the sky, shapes of clouds, shadows on a hill. I wonder about the farmhouse that still has curtains on the windows, yet abandoned. I stop on bridges and watch water rush below. I see turkey and deer, donkeys and horses, weeds and wildflowers, fields of sunflowers and bales of hay. But, rarely, do I see other people.

It’s common in Nebraska to travel country roads and not encounter another car or person for miles. I feel as if I’m the only person in the world, an unmatched solitude and peace. I am taken with the beauty of the changing seasons—the greens of spring and summer, the gold and reds of autumn, the browns and grey of winter. I notice when the corn is higher, the sky more blue. The landscape is always being re-created, always in a state of becoming.

It happened slowly, but I realized that the drive is just as sacred of an experience as getting to my destination.  I prefer to drive alone, sometimes spending two or more hours turning west, then north, then west again; taking roads that look interesting and head in the general direction of St. Benedict Center. It has become part of the weekend getaway instead of the means to an end. The drives that I had tried to trim minutes off of, actually have become longer. As I plan more time for the drive, my weekend pilgrimages start the minute I get in the car.

A pilgrimage is a journey. A pilgrimage does not require a far-off destination or even a sacred shrine as the endpoint. A great Desert father, Abba Moses, advised his monks, “Go sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” My car has become my “cell”, where I turn inward, reflect, behold, contemplate and enjoy the country roads.

“No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.”― Heraclitus

Optimized-DSC_0500a (1)I wanted to capture the beauty of the land that is so seldom seen—not just in numbers of people (although that can be an issue in Nebraska), but I mean really seen—appreciated, cherished, shared.  Now I take a camera with me every time I travel country roadsI pull my car to the side of the road and photograph animals, sheds, flowers, old buildings, roads, fields, clouds, gravestones on a hill. I take pictures of cows that make eye contact with me (and they always do). I photograph barns that are bright red, barns with peeling paint, barns that have collapsed.

With each photo I take I know I am experiencing a once-in-a-lifetime-moment. I have taken thousands of photos of the countryside, but no two will ever be the same.  Never again will the clouds look just that way or will the grass be just that shade of green. Never will I step into the same “river” again, each moment unique and made for me to celebrate. When that moment is gone, it is gone forever.

I am alone on my pilgrimage, yet accompanied. This is where I know I meet God. This is where ideas overflow; where there are bursts of creativity and a wealth of insights; where problems get solved, prayer happens and time stands still, in my “cell”.

My “cell” has taught me that photography is contemplative prayer. It is a new way of seeing. I honor the present moment like no other time or place. There are so many undiscovered parts of our world—places where no one is—in the depths of the ocean, the expanse of a cornfield, down a Nebraska country road. God is present in all of those places and in our solitude we can be there too.

I have learned so much about God and life on country roads. The most efficient route might not be the most fruitful. I can head in a general direction and God can fill in the details. I can be flexible. Listening to God and following my intuition works. Perhaps I don’t need to have everything planned out perfectly. I can look for signs along the way (some roads are more winding or steep; usually there is a warning, just like in life). I can surrender to surprise. The present moment is all we have and we better appreciate it. Joy is meant to be shared, eventually, but solitude is essential. Spirit is the best roadmap. I am not the Absolute, so I cannot know absolutely where I should end up. I’ve learned to listen, to pray, to rejoice. I experience the sacred on country roads.

 

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.”

Surrender to Surprise

The shortest distance between two points is a straight line. I learned that from “The Brady Bunch” (or Math class).  11aMapQuest or Google Maps usually give a few  options, recommending the most direct route. But based on my own personal experience, it isn’t always accurate or logical.  It may seem more efficient to take a well-planned route, but it’s not nearly as adventurous. I find it so exciting to drive down a road that I’ve never been on before and sooooo boring to drive the same route time after time.

There are countless ways to get from one point to another.  And I plan to discover as many of these countless routes as possible between Lincoln and Schuyler, Nebraska. Just go north and west, 90 minutes. COUNTLESS possibilities– each one delivers something new with St. Benedict Center as the final destination. Continue reading “Surrender to Surprise”

The Right Book at the Right Time: A Divine Encounter

“Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth, what a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you.”—Annie Lamott

I believe the right book comes along at just the right time.

As both bibliophile and believer in a God of surprises, how could I not? Whether at home or away, SolariumI always have a book, or ten, by my bedside. I like to have choices. I have dozens of books on shelves I want to re-read (and do) (and will). I also have dozens of books that I haven’t read yet. So when I go away, I pack 3 or 4 to choose from depending on my mood.  When I’m at St. Benedict Center, sometimes the books don’t even leave my suitcase; instead I let Serendipity choose for me. I go into the solarium, peruse the book titles and wait for one to speak to me. And the right book always presents itself. There is never a wrong choice. Continue reading “The Right Book at the Right Time: A Divine Encounter”

Wise or stupid? A Journey to Wisdom

I am spending time this week preparing a retreat called Journey to Wisdom. Sometimes I am so sure I know what is wise and what is not-so-wi….well, stupid. I can be pretty quick about making that determination in a variety of situations. In educational jargon, I would say I am proficient at determining wise vs. stupid. I am particularly adept at examining the dilemmas or behaviors of others. Actually, I give myself an A+. I’m fairly certain, even, that I’ve done some not-so-w, well, stupid, things myself. I guess we can all have our stupid moments.  So what does it really mean to have wisdom?

Wikipedia tells us, “Wisdom (sophia) is the ability to think and act using knowledge, experience, understanding, common sense and insight, with good intentions.” Having knowledge presumes there is some seeking and hopefully, some finding. Knowledge and experience (according to my experience) come from learning, reading, living, asking questions, trying something new, keeping an open-mind, listening.  And insight can come from reflection, observing, asking, seeking, creating, listening, discussing, meditating and praying–I imagine not an exhaustive list.

Seeker1So can we ever have wisdom? Knowing all, experiencing all, understanding all–sounds more like the definition of God, than of myself. I do not know, experience or understand very much, truth be told. Yet still, I seek.

“The monk, a universal archetype of the search for the divine, represents everything in you that leans toward the sacred, all that reaches for what is eternal.” -Christine Valters Paintner, The Artist’s Rule

This seeking, as a spiritual journey, is never complete. And despite my accuracy in judging wise vs. stupid, I believe it is a journey of a lifetime. I will continue to search, to seek, to lean toward the sacred. So this is what I do with SoulFully You. I seek. I seek to know more about myself and God. I seek so I can share.  I read, learn, discuss, pray and create. I consult my inner monk and inner artist.

The inner monk and the inner artist are archetypes that we will explore on the Journey to Wisdom retreat. I will share more with you on a future blog post (after the retreat.) Sharing too much beforehand would not be wise…well, it would be stupid. 🙂

Card name: Seeker

Journey to Wisdom: Using SoulCollage® for Prayer and Reflection

journey

Awakening your creativity using the SoulCollage® process is just the first step in discovering parts of Self and Spirit. Images chosen to create a collage card hold a special place in the moment and time you are co-creating with God. As you are gathering images, cutting and pasting, rearranging and reflecting, your images will guide you to a new awareness and reveal a deeper level of thoughts and feelings. This is the birthing of a SoulCollage® card, but giving birth is just the beginning of a journey.

“You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on to you.”
-Heraclitis of Ephesus

Your creations continue to bring new insights and wisdom as you return to them in reflection. Think of your creation as the river with water flowing over it, bringing new ideas, experiences and God whispers from sacred listening.

Using one’s SoulCollage® cards for prayer, meditation and reflection is a process called “reading” your cards“The intention of a SoulCollage® reading is to provide a way that our personal and powerful card images can actually speak aloud to us about important life questions. Images have a way of bypassing the chatter of our logical minds and nudging our deep Soul wisdom where intuitive answers can be found and spoken. Doing a reading in a supportive, small group is especially powerful because Souls love the silent embrace of witnesses.”
~ Seena B. Frost

Using journaling, individual reflection, group interaction and “I am one who…” statements, you can deepen your spiritual life using your collage cards. Cards made during unique, special or difficult times of your life, circle back to bring you wisdom as you continue on your spiritual journey.

Pictures are worth a thousand words.

It’s not just a cliche. Images are powerful. They conjure up feelings, memories, ideas. They tell stories. They stand for something.

A brandmark or logo expresses the identity of a business that is easily recognized without using words. Businesses spend a ton of money developing their brand identity, not that we need the business world’s affirmation of the power of images. We already know it. We know it in our soul.

soul-picture

Continue reading “Pictures are worth a thousand words.”

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