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

lab 2

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.

labyrinth prayer

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”.

 

Wisdom Ways Labyrinth Building
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.

 

labyrinth and card
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.

labyrinth June 2017

 

 

The Fullness of Joy

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

joy fullness

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?

we all have a story1
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

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.  

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

 

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.

 

Every Little Thing!

Little things matter. A bunch of little things can make a difference, especially if it’s all the candy we eat in the weeks leading up to and following Halloween, which bumps into the weeks leading up to and following Thanksgiving…and then there’s all the Christmas parties… you get the idea. All the fun-sized, little snacks and treats can just plain add up on the scale.  Little things matter.

But little things can add up unexpectedly in big and good ways, too. The little things we do to take care of our physical, emotional and spiritual health can make a difference. The peaceful inhale and exhale of a contemplative prayer or meditation practice can sustain us when times are stressful. The little things we do for others can give comfort or show appreciation.

There are lots of little ways to make a big difference in the lives of people that we work, play and live with.

My former neighbor and friend, Deidra Riggs, wrote a book called Every Little Thing: Making a World of Difference Right Where You Are. Deidra found herself living in Nebraska, having moved here for her husband’s job, but not liking it one bit. Right where she was, was not where she wanted to be.

I started planning my escape. I wanted out. Not through. As far as I could tell, Nebraska was the very worst place to live in all the world”, she writes. Continue reading “Every Little Thing!”

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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