Earth Day 2020….moving over to Being Benedictine!

I started this website, SoulFully You, in 2014 to share information about my passion for SoulCollage® and retreats that I planned to offer. SoulFully You is about living soulfully, practicing one’s spirituality through SoulCollage® and other contemplative and creative expressions.

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In 2016, I started a website called Being Benedictine, to share reflections about what it means to live as a monk in the world, following the Rule of St. Benedict as an oblate. At first, these two blogs seemed separate and distinct. 

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But as I have continued to write, create, and reflect, I have realized that listening to the Divine is integral to BOTH living soulfully and to being a Benedictine oblate.

There isn’t a line of separation between living creatively and listening to God.

They are one and the same.  A listening heart is the foundation of creative, prayerful spiritual practice like SoulCollage® AND to being Benedictine–promising obedience, stability, and conversion of life–as an oblate.

For this reason, my 2020 vision is to slowly migrate SoulFully You blog posts to Being Benedictine under the menu heading, Visio Divina~SoulCollage®, where one can find information about SoulFully You retreats, the practice of Visio Divina (listening to God through art and images, including SoulCollage®) and blog posts specifically about using art, images and SoulCollage® to grow spiritually. You can sign up for email notifications or follow Being Benedictine on Word Press reader just as you have for SoulFully You. 

Below is a sampling of posts on celebrating Earth Day using SoulCollage®.

May you live SoulFully with a listening heart!

Continue reading “Earth Day 2020….moving over to Being Benedictine!”

New and Improved: Always We Begin Again

The most used words in marketing campaigns and on product packaging are new and improved. This expression taps into our deepest desires to improve our lives and our circumstances. Marketers know this—that most of us want better and that we want to BE better, to be more of this or less of that—and so come the advertisements for weight loss, exercise facilities, home improvement, travel and more. Of course, the superficial and material never satisfy and leave us still wanting more, or less.

The essence of making New Year’s resolutions—everything from setting financial, career and relationship goals to considering new ways of being and doing—is that we desperately seek the chance to “do over.” It might sound elementary, and even impossible, but we long for it anyway.

Celebrating the beginning of a new year is a reminder of our opportunity to “always begin again”—the embodiment of Being Benedictine. It’s not as simple as a “do over” but January 1, merely just one day that follows December 31, gives us a definitive time and space to honor our deepest longing to begin again.

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I’ve long since quit making resolutions. Well, not really—I make them and break them so quickly and consistently, that I’ve chosen to look at them more gently, as beginning again. Each year I select a word that will help guide me in the New Year.

I share my last three years of words that have served me far beyond the year they were chosen for—mercy, gentle and cushion. The intention of these simple words has seeped into my spirit in a way that makes me new and improved in the deepest sense.

Mercy

What powerful images Pope Francis brought to this word when he declared a Jubilee Year of Mercy in 2016 and captured in a SoulCollage® card that I made to remember that year. We are received just as the Prodigal Son was received, with open and forgiving arms. The image of the Prodigal Son conveys all of the qualities of mercy that we hope to receive and strive to give: compassion, tenderness, love, and acceptance. In our thoughts, words, and actions, towards ourselves and others, we have a new day to try again to give and receive the mercy that God has given us. We are not perfect; we need to forgive ourselves and others again and again, but the doors are always open for us to begin again in light of Christ. Read more at Always, We Begin Again.

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Mercy SoulCollage Card

Gentle

There is an endless list of shoulds, musts, shouldn’ts, can’ts, more of this or less of that,  that could be the foundation of a New Year’s resolution. But for 2017, I resolved not to resolve anything but to be excessively gentle with myself instead. Resolve, itself, is such a dogged, unwavering word, so I called this “being gentle” my un-resolution. In a series of SoulCollage® reflections, I asked myself—How can I learn to be more gentle with myself and others? This process was so revealing and healing. I learned through images that I don’t have to “wear” everything I’m given. Perhaps the old and worn, even the cherished, can be hung up for a while; not discarded, but set aside. One cannot keep wearing what is from the past; sometimes we just need to hang it up, to let it rest. Our shadow side can be carried in the heart as shame unless we practice being excessively gentle. Read more at Be Excessively Gentle: A New Year’s Un-Resolution

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“Hang It Up” SoulCollage Card

Cushion

Perhaps, a funny word next to the more sober “mercy”, but I chose the word cushion for 2018 to represent balance, an invaluable tool of Benedictine spirituality. When seeking a balance between the seemingly opposite speaking and silence, being together and alone, between activity and rest, prayer and work, I consider how to create a cushion. The connection between these two good options is the word “and”, not “or”. We need both. We need balance, yes, but we can give ourselves a cushion, the opportunity to rest knowing that perfection is not expected. We listen. We act. We pray. We readjust. “This is how a Benedictine’s day is. It is always changing, alternating—praying, working, resting. This is captured in the Benedictine motto, pray and work…The most important word is ‘and’.” –Fr. Mauritius Wilde Read more at 2018 Word of the Year…drumroll, please

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Cushion SoulCollage Card–Word for 2018

There is nothing magical about these words and there is no guarantee that one or any other will be the secret to creating a new and improved you, but I have found this process of choosing a word to be integral to my journey of seeking God, peace, and joy in a world of uncertainty.

May your New Year bring you the mercy, cushion and excessive gentleness that you need. As you journey through the joys and inevitable sorrows of the next year may you find meaning in the words of John O’Donohue— “At first your thinking will darken / And sadness take over like listless weather. The flow of unwept tears will frighten you. / You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back…Draw alongside the silence of stone until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.” –an excerpt from “A Blessing for One Who is Exhausted”

What word resonates with you? Will you pick a word for 2019? Consider creating an image that captures the essence of your word. Please share your word or image in comments!

For 2019, I have selected not just one word, but a phrase instead. “You are free” is a phrase given to me that I’ve been meditating on and practicing with for several months. It has seeped into my being and doing just like my other words. I’ve created a collage that captures what freedom might feel like.  I will share more soon!

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I am FREE!

 

Suicide: That Voice In Your Head is a Liar

I don’t know Kate Spade. I don’t own any of her purses or other products. I’m not fashion-conscious by any stretch of the imagination—my daughter/personal shopper will vouch for that. But the news that Kate Spade—a beautiful, wealthy, creative woman—has ended her life has me in tears.

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There are many unanswered questions for those left behind when someone takes their own life. I wonder about this woman I do not know. Were there demons in her head that told her she wasn’t enough, that there was no hope for healing her pain, that she was a burden to those who love her? I wonder about her husband, her child and her close friends. I wonder if she reached out for help. I wonder why her love for her daughter seems not to have been enough to override her feelings of despair. So many questions…

I immediately reached out to my own daughter—“If you ever ever ever feel that kind of depression or desperation, please please please reach out…It is never true—that evil voice in our head that says life isn’t worth it or that pain cannot be overcome. If there is a devil, that is it, that voice. It is a liar.” I thought of a former student who loved Kate Spade and her products—I sent her a message too. “This is shocking news but a testament that no one is immune.”

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So often we think that the rich and famous, or educated, funny, spiritual (or any of the qualities we covet), do not struggle with depression and despair. But they are human, too. Even Kate Spade, who chose to end her life, must have felt she had no choice. There is a mystery to suicide. There is much we do not know or understand, but we should not blame those involved and/or think that it happens only to others.

We are all vulnerable. I lost a friend to suicide over a decade ago—and it still makes me sad and angry. I have also had bouts of depression, despair and the occasional voice of the devil that rears its ugly head in my thoughts. We are all vulnerable to becoming a victim of suicide—either one who is left behind, as one who struggles with despairing thoughts or the one who completes this final act.

In the weeks before my dear friend, Colleen, decided to take her own life, she suffered from immense physical, spiritual, psychological and emotional pain. No one can feel the pain of another or take it away but, still, I hope she received some comfort that she was met in her pain through conversations with and prayers from her loved ones.

I used to think this was enough—to be available and compassionate, to pray and forgive. But I think there is one more vital thing we can do for ourselves and others—tell them NOT to leave, beg them NOT to listen to the voice of the devil, the liar in their head.

Tell yourself that too. Get help. Stop a Suicide Today.

And as you encounter someone who seems at risk of suicide, consider the advice from St. Benedict, “Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ” and treat each person as if they were Christ himself, particularly yourself. You are the Christ-bearer and worthy of patient waiting for the dark night of the soul to pass. For an excellent article and insight from a Catholic perspective, read A Catholic Approach to the Suicide Epidemic.

Rome ~ Layers Like Lasagna

There are layers of history in Rome—“layers like lasagna”—one tour guide suggested. Literally, layers were built on top of layers, buildings that had been destroyed by war and natural disaster were covered with dirt and new buildings were erected over ruins. Symbolically, many Christian churches were built over ancient pagan sites.

The architecture, art, and religious history communicate something spiritual, a deeper story with layers of meaning, like lasagna. I’ll share some of my favorite places, and the journey, from my trip to Rome to attend the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates:

St. Peter’s Basilica and the Scavi tour

On my first morning in Rome, I had scheduled a visit to St. Peter’s Basilica and the Scavi tour of the necropolis beneath, including St. Peter’s tomb. My plan was to have a taxi drop me off where I needed to be to start the tour for a stress-free morning, no need for coat and umbrella, and no need to hurry. Where I thought I could find a taxi, there were none; where a distracted police officer pointed, there were none. A little nervous, I decided I should just start walking in the general direction of the Vatican or I may not get there in time. Surely, I would see the large dome and signs along the way. There were none.

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I remember that the Vatican was just to the left of the Tiber River as it changes directions. With this vague idea, I set off on a lovely tree-lined path along the Tiber River. The views were beautiful—this will be just fine, I say to myself, I have plenty of time.Getting a little chilly, but I’ll be there soon. The online map said a 45-minute walk. Oops, a few sprinkles, a few more. Darn it, why didn’t I bring the umbrella I had packed?

 I reach the point where the Vatican should be but I see no less than six different options to take; I see no dome and no signs. In panic mode now, with it getting colder and sprinkling more, I ask a woman, “Where is the Vatican?”  Mind you, I had asked one young couple who responded, “In hurry, no time” and another woman who circled herself saying, “hmmm” whom I decided not to trust for accurate directions, but this woman—she is my angel. “No English. I take you,” she said. Oh, thank God.

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She takes me a few blocks to the intersection where I finally see St. Peter’s Basilica (and its dome. Who knew the Vatican was surrounded by other tall buildings? Not what I had pictured.) I have finally arrived, yet I still need to walk several blocks in light rainfall, so I duck into a little storefront outside of St. Peter’s Square and buy an umbrella. Better safe, than sorry, I think.

Thirty seconds later, new umbrella overhead, I experienced the hardest rainfall I’ve ever walked in (outside of the time I got lost in Munich, Germany …. hmmm, seems to be an international pattern). I arrive at the gate of the Swiss Guard in plenty of time to stand in the cold and rain for at least 30 more minutes before the tour began. Still, I am grateful I walked. I learned, and saw, much more than I would have had I been delivered directly to St. Peter’s Square. There are layers of meaning when you surrender to the journey. 

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The tour was quite amazing, but I was most struck by the case the guide built throughout the tour that the Basilica was indeed constructed over St. Peter’s tomb. The area beneath St. Peter’s Basilica was only discovered in the 1940s and during excavation, archaeologists found a 4th-century burial ground and a grave marked with ancient lettering translated, “Peter is here”.  I was so touched by the reverence our guide showed letting each individual participant have a few moments to privately view the site. It was a moment for the heart to remember only; no photos were permitted on the tour. Nearby the guide pointed out an elaborate grate in the ceiling—directly above, one could hear the prayers and responses of a Mass in progress in the Basilica. For centuries, what laid below was hidden. This faith, built on a grave, has layers of meaning, like lasagna.

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I had plenty of time to explore the Basilica and its side chapels in quiet solitude when I went on my own, but on the World Congress of Benedictine Oblates group tour we learned some of the symbolism behind the artwork, altars, and relics from a guide. I learned the bronze statue of St. Peter holding the keys of heaven was a pilgrimage itself—for centuries pilgrims touched or kissed his right foot, literally wearing it thin, to receive a blessing from the Church’s first Pope, hoping the gates of heaven would be opened for them. This Catholic faith holds so many beautiful rituals with layers of meaning. Layers, like lasagna.

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Aventine Hill, One of the Seven Hills of Rome

Before going to the conference center, I stayed two nights at a monastery at the bottom of Aventine Hill, chosen to be near Sant’Anselmo all’Aventino, the monastery of Fr. Mauritius Wilde. Located in a surprisingly residential area near the Coliseum, I favored the solitude and quiet of the crooked, narrow street lined with gardens, parks and ancient churches to the bustle and crowds of St. Peter’s Basilica.

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On the leisurely journey up the hill to visit Fr. Mauritius, I visited the Basilica of Santa Sabina, the oldest Roman Basilica built between 422 and 432, where Pope Francis celebrated Ash Wednesday.  Traditionally, the Pope begins the celebration at Sant’ Anselmo’s, walking on foot from one basilica to another, to celebrate the beginning of Lent. Further up the hill, I visited Santi Bonifacio and ­­­Santa Prisca, as well as a park that overlooked the center of Rome, and the famous Knights of Malta Keyhole that outlines a view of St. Peter’s perfectly.

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It was a delight to see Fr. Mauritius, who moved to Rome after serving as Prior for six years at Schuyler’s Christ the King Priory. After a behind-the-scenes tour of the academic center, monastery, chapel and grounds, we enjoyed conversation on the patio. I had kept in touch with Fr. Mauritius since his move the year before, but this revealed another layer, like lasagna. There is a contentment knowing just where my friend’s home is, to know where he works and prays.

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St. Benedict’s cell at San Benedetto and Montecassino Abbey

Both destinations were a highlight of sacred sites visited—first, the cell of St. Benedict while he studied in Rome (about the year 500) before founding his first monastery in Subiaco. The cell, or small room, has been preserved; a small chapel adjacent, San Benedetto in Piscinula, dates back to the 12th century. I loved, LOVED, loved this special place. I could have stayed there for hours. To know that St. Benedict listened “with the ear of his heart” in this very place, rejecting the political corruption of Rome and what was expected of him, to pursue the call he knew was from God—well, for a Benedictine Oblate, this is a moment. Had I not been in a group with a full sight-seeing schedule, I would have likely spent a half-day in contemplation at this chapel.

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After a beautiful drive in the countryside east of Rome, we arrived at the Abbey of Montecassino where St. Benedict wrote his Rule. We were welcomed, after a foggy drive up the mountain, by clear skies and a heartfelt blessing at Mass—“This is your house as Benedictines,” the priest said, “St. Benedict welcomes you, hugs you, blesses you.” After Mass, we visited the original part of the Abbey, dating back to the 5th century, which had not been destroyed during World War II. This was another profound experience—to be in the place where the Rule of St. Benedict, a guide for monastics and oblates for over 1500 years, was penned. Later we met a gentleman who, as a little boy, had taken refuge with his family at the Abbey during the War, hoping to be safe with the monks high on the mountain. How devastating war is, how many layers there are—for this young boy and his family, the nearby town and, ultimately, the Abbey, bombed in the Battle of Monte Cassino. There are no winners in war.

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Place is a powerful thing

It gives us perspective, a sense of where we’ve come from and how we’ve gotten here. The Christian story unfolded in this place of Rome. I am so grateful to have experienced this place of Peter and Paul, the places of St. Benedict and so many other holy places.

But I remember that home is holy too.

Home is where I work out the tension between stability and conversion. Home is where I listen to the ear of my heart. Home is the most important place; it is our present moment. Home is the people you surround yourself with, our friends and family. Our story unfolds at home. This is where we uncover our many layers, like lasagna.

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My first meal in Rome–lasagna!

God Loves a Cheerful Giver

God loves a joyful giver

People who don’t give money to the homeless because they think it will be spent on alcohol and not food should ask themselves what guilty pleasures they are secretly spending money on, Pope Francis said. “There are many excuses” to justify why one doesn’t lend a hand when asked by a person begging on the street. (Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, 2/28/17)

I’ve been thinking about the decision to give (or not to give) to a beggar on the street since Pope Francis suggested that giving “is always right,” whether one thinks the other is truly in need or not.  A few months ago when I was leaving a movie theater, having spent an evening out with friends, I saw a homeless man with a sign asking for money. Engaged in conversation, I quickly walked passed him. I was pretty sure I didn’t have any cash on me anyway. But later, upon reflection, I realized that I did not (or could not) look the man in the eye, and I wondered why.  If I had money with me, would I have given it to him? Would I have looked him in the eye then? I felt a sense of shame, partly for not giving him some money,  but more so because I hadn’t looked at him directly.  Looking someone in the eye honors their dignity; it acknowledges WHO THEY ARE.

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I have considered more that “tossing money and not looking in (their) eyes is not a Christian” way of behaving, either. Pope Francis suggests the way one reaches out to the person asking for help is important and must be done “by looking them in the eyes and touching their hands.” It honors the dignity of the other, regardless of whether we feel the other is deserving. In this way, we face our own judgments of another, our implicit bias.

When encountering people who live on the street, the pope said he always greets them and sometimes inquires about their lives and background. He always chatted with a homeless family and couple that lived next to the archbishop’s residence in Buenos Aires, Argentina, he said, and never considered getting rid of them. When “Someone told me, ‘They’re making the chancery filthy,’ Well, the filth is within” one’s heart, he said. (Carol Glatz, Catholic News Service, 2/28/17)

Several days after walking by that beggar, my husband and I encountered the same scene, a homeless man with a sign asking for money. As we walked by, not looking at him directly, I paused. We had a quick discussion about giving some money or not, and I remembered Pope Francis’ advice: It is not my job to determine whether this man is truly in need or to be concerned about where the money shall be spent. And it’s not even about whether I can afford a dollar or two, of which I am quite able. If I can’t spare a dollar after having a lovely dinner on the way to a concert, then it says more about me than the beggar.  Continue reading “God Loves a Cheerful Giver”

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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

St Benedict, St. Scholastica and Spiritual Friendship

I received the gift of the Holy Spirit when I was nine years old. It took many months of catechism class to prepare to receive the sacrament of Holy Confirmation in the Catholic Church. There were dozens of questions about doctrine and faith to study, like:

What is a sacrament?  A sacrament is an outward sign made by Christ to give grace.
What is grace? Grace is any gift from God.
How many persons are there in God? There are three Persons in God.

 ….and so on. There were scores of prayers and creeds to memorize, months of CCD every Wednesday afternoon and hours of quizzing by my parents at night, but the pay-off for a nine-year-old girl was the opportunity to choose a saint’s name as my second middle name. All by myself. This was a big deal. It seemed like such a grown-up thing to do, to pick MY OWN name. I chose the name Christine, not because I knew anything about St. Christine, but because the name was so pretty to me. Jodi Marie Christine.

My grandma was so proud of my Confirmation that she called me Christine the whole day. My parents gave me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate the occasion and as any nine-year-old would do, the first thing I did was look up my birthday. I was immediately disappointed. The illustration seemed so dark –a man with a hood, a scary looking bird and a funny name that I had only associated with Benedict Arnold, a famous American traitor.  After gaining such a beautiful name like Christine, what kind of luck did I have to get a guy named Benedict on my birthday?!  July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said.  I read the pages about St. Benedict often, thinking that I should have some connection with this man as my patron saint, but then I forgot about him until…

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Fast forward 30 years when I found my way to St. Benedict Center, not because of the name or that I remembered anything that I had read about St. Benedict, but because I had a desire for prayer and silence. And at a silent retreat, I met a woman named Colleen who would become like a sister to me, an Anam Cara or soul friend. She gave me a card once that said, “We’re like sisters with different mothers.” We connected on a spiritual level–we prayed together, read spiritual books and could have talked for hours about our spiritual journey. And what I discovered the year she passed away further deepens our connection. Her birthday is February 10 and her patron saint is St. Benedict’s twin sister, St. Scholastica. They had a close relationship, even though they could not spend a lot of time together, and they were both committed to God. 

Here is the story of St. Scholastica from the books of Dialogues by Saint Gregory the Great: 

“Scholastica, the sister of Saint Benedict, had been consecrated to God from her earliest years. She was accustomed to visiting her brother once a year. He would come down to meet her at a place on the monastery property, not far outside the gate.

One day she came as usual and her saintly brother went with some of his disciples; they spent the whole day praising God and talking of sacred things. As night fell they had supper together.

Their spiritual conversation went on and the hour grew late. The holy nun said to her brother: “Please do not leave me tonight; let us go on until morning talking about the delights of the spiritual life.” “Sister,” he replied, “what are you saying? I simply cannot stay outside my cell.”

When she heard her brother refuse her request, the holy woman joined her hands on the table, laid her head on them and began to pray. As she0035 raised her head from the table, there were such brilliant flashes of lightning, such great peals of thunder and such a heavy downpour of rain that neither Benedict nor his brethren could stir across the threshold of the place where they had been seated. Sadly he began to complain: “May God forgive you, sister. What have you done?” “Well,” she answered, “I asked you and you would not listen; so I asked my God and he did listen. So now go off, if you can, leave me and return to your monastery.” 

Reluctant as he was to stay of his own will, he remained against his will. So it came about that they stayed awake the whole night, engrossed in their conversation about the spiritual life.

It is not surprising that she was more effective than he, since as John says, God is love, it was absolutely right that she could do more, as she loved more.

Three days later, Benedict was in his cell. Looking up to the sky, he saw his sister’s soul leave her body in the form of a dove, and fly up to the secret places of heaven. Rejoicing in her great glory, he thanked almighty God with hymns and words of praise. He then sent his brethren to bring her body to the monastery and lay it in the tomb he had prepared for himself.

Their minds had always been united in God; their bodies were to share a common grave.”

The lessons I’ve learned from St. Benedict and St. Scholastica, from my friendship with Colleen and other soul friends, are many. I’m sure there are more to come, but here is some of what I’ve learned so far:

Spiritual friendships never end.  ♥  Neither death nor distance can separate us from the love of another.  ♥  There is no such thing as loving too much.  ♥  Spiritual friendships are a gift from God.  ♥   We support each other in living out God’s purpose in our life.   ♥   Spiritual connections with friends enrich one’s prayer life and guide the other back to God when one is temporarily lost.   ♥   Spending time together is important, but friendship resides in the heart.   ♥   We pray for and with each other.   ♥  We cry with each other.   ♥  We laugh together.   ♥  We listen to, plan with, comfort and challenge each other.   ♥  We are grateful for each other and we say it.   ♥  “Our minds are united in God.”

I thank God for the example of all the saints and for learning about St. Benedict as a child. I thank God for my oblate experience to learn more about St. Benedict and his Rule (and about the hooded Abbot and his scary bird). I thank God for the lives and stories of St. Benedict and St. Scholastica. I thank God for spiritual friendships

Joyce, Colleen and me at St. Benedict Center.
Joyce, Colleen and me at St. Benedict Center.

 “Friendship is the linking of spirits.  It is a spiritual act, not a social one.  It is the finding of the remainder of the self.  It is knowing a person before you even meet them.”  ~Joan Chittister

For more information about Benedictine Spirituality, go to Being Benedictine website/blog

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.

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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.  

I don’t know nothin’.

I don’t know nothin’.

After trying to solve world problems, philosophizing and sharing his wisdom over a glass of wine at our kitchen table, my father-in-law, Marv, would exclaim, “What do I know? I don’t know nothin’.” He had thoughts and opinions (oh, yes, he did) and plenty of experience, but, self-admittedly, he knew he still didn’t know much.131207_10200564020853354_135052895_o

Marv said it often enough that it was the opening line in the eulogy my husband gave for his dad’s funeral. So much is held in those few words: I don’t know nothin’.

Perhaps it meant—I surrender. I am humbled. I don’t know it all. I don’t know hardly anything. I can’t see the big picture. I raise up my hands and proclaim, “I don’t know.” I thought I had answers. I thought I knew a lot, but now, I’m not so sure I know much at all.

I’m not sure if Marv meant all those things when he said “I don’t know nothin’,” but it does show that he left room for not knowing, for mystery. He knew he wasn’t in charge of all things true… and he admitted it many, many times.  

Feeling blinded by the dust and debris of life, his words speak to me when I feel my plans are not going according to the playbook I’ve written.  I’m not special; I know dust and debris fly for all. Life is humbling—this is what I think my father-in-law meant. And I am missing him right now because I know he would’ve comforted me and brought it all down to that one line-“I don’t know nothin’.”

Marv, even though he’s been gone now for 3 years, still lives on in my heart and head. He is my inspiration for this SoulCollage card, “Surrender Supergirl”:supergirl

I am one who is young at heart, brave and courageous, but I am still growing. I have a ways to go before I am the Supergirl I wish that I was. I am one who isn’t quite as brave as I might look.

I wonder, how do I look? Do I care what I look like to others? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps I should surrender this idea of Supergirl….or at least the idea that her strength and knowledge comes from me alone. 

Part of me is hidden from others and even myself. I’m still discovering who I am and where my strength comes from. I am at peace knowing that I don’t have everything all figured out right now, and maybe I never will. I will grow either way- whether I strive to or not.

The tree does not wish itself to grow. It just grows. In wind and rain, drought and snow, being cared for and being neglected, the tree grows. I am growing into the freedom of a cautious and courageous spirit. I am growing into knowing nothing, of letting go what I thought being strong and brave, courageous and peaceful looked like. 

It doesn’t look like anything. It is experienced. It is lived into. It is not an easy thing to grow, but I raise my arms in surrender, dancing on the beaches of freedom, the freedom from having to know everything. I surrender Supergirl.  

I don’t know nothin’.

Marv was almost 80 years old when he died and I am almost 50, but age doesn’t really matter when we are on a journey to knowing (and unknowing) ourselves. Marv was a humble man who gave of himself in so many ways. If this is what it means to know nothing, sign me up.

Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled, and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted. –Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 7 MedalBlueGold180

Learn more about Benedictine spirituality and the Rule of St. Benedict.

 

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