I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series. Read on for Jodi Blazek Gehr’s reflection on being a Benedictine oblate.
St. Benedict is special to me for a few reasons. First, we share a birthday. I admit I was disappointed when I first discovered this. My parents had given me an illustrated book of the “Lives of the Saints” to commemorate my Confirmation. As any nine-year-old would do, I immediately looked to see who the saint was for July 11, my birthday. Perhaps Elizabeth, Mary, or Theresa would be my special saint.
Instead, I see an illustration of a man with a dark hood, a scary-looking bird, a crooked cane, and an unusual name I had only associated with Benedict Arnold. July 11, St. Benedict, Abbot, it said. I had never heard of him and surely did not know what an Abbot was. Through the years, I returned to this image of St. Benedict, thinking that I should have some connection with my patron saint.
Fast forward 26 years. With a full and busy life—married with a young daughter, a career as a high school teacher and club sponsor—I felt a deep longing for times of silence. I answered the call of my heart and responded to an advertisement for a silent contemplative prayer retreat. I discovered an oasis of peace just a few hours from home in the cornfields of Nebraska…called St. Benedict Center.
I recall my dark-hooded saint, and, not realizing it, began my journey of “being Benedictine.” Through the years, I went to dozens of retreats, became an Oblate (a lay associate to a monastery) and have gone on three Benedictine pilgrimages to Europe. I write a blog called “Being Benedictine” and lead retreats on spirituality and creativity.
Being Benedictine is a way of life. The foundation of a monk’s commitment are three vows—stability, obedience, and conversion of life. As an Oblate, I learn from the wisdom of St. Benedict and apply these values in all aspects of my life.
The promise of stability. Monks who have made monastic vows practice stability by committing to a specific monastery and staying put. “The monk is an archetype, whether we live in a monastery or not, we have a sense of what it means to be a monk. We long to be together with God in solitude.” (Fr. Mauritius Wilde, OSB) Although not living in a monastery, I seek God right where I am—practicing stability in my marriage (since 1985) and my profession as a teacher (since 1997.) This commitment requires attending to the present moment and my reality with all its challenges. It is deciding to stay in situations, rather than running away. God is not somewhere else; God is present in what is.
Growth only happens by planting roots, standing firm, and practicing patience. A marriage will not survive without adapting to, enduring, and celebrating the change of seasons—the spring of hope and new life, the summer of comfort and security, the autumn of changes and letting go, the winter of sadness, and even, despair. I believe it is only in the stability of marriage, enduring the weather of every season, that one can reap the true benefits of a life lived together.
My commitment to teaching is a lot like my marriage. Practicing stability has given me the courage to continue teaching, to discover valuable lessons that can only be learned slowly and over time. It takes work—I give; I get; it is (too) hard sometimes; I want to quit; I recommit. There are weeks, months, sometimes years, that don’t seem very rewarding. But there are moments that are affirming; it is then that the reward is revealed. It is only over time that the fruits of the labor can be truly appreciated, and the work of the Divine is evident.
The promise of obedience. The monk vows to be obedient, to listen—the first word of the Rule of St. Benedict. To “listen with the ear of the heart” requires silence. For me, that includes spiritual reading, Lectio Divina, creative expression including writing and practicing SoulCollage®, a powerful form of prayer and self-reflection that expresses both the inner artist and monk archetypes. “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…The artist speaks to that part of you which yearns for beauty and creativity.” (Macrina Wiedekehr). By creatively and prayerfully cutting and pasting images, one can have new awareness and deeper levels of understanding. One of my greatest joys is exploring new ideas, gathering resources, and then sharing with others. Planning and leading retreats provide a unique opportunity for being creative with others and developing spiritual friendships.
The promise of conversatio morum. While staying put and listening deeply, a monk commits to conversatio morum, a conversion of life—movement within stability. We allow ourselves to be changed. I am certainly not the same person who said, “I do,” years ago; and thank God, I am not that first-year teacher struggling to manage a classroom. I seek new ways to approach challenges— professional learning, counseling, spiritual direction, prayer. I am open to being converted again and again, to grow in compassion and patience.
Being Benedictine, an on-going spiritual journey, requires humility. By promising stability, obedience, and conversion of life, the Divine is revealed in my daily life as wife, mother, friend, teacher, retreat leader, monk, and artist!
Jodi Blazek Gehr is a wife and mother, a Benedictine Oblate, a certified SoulCollage® and Boundless Compassion Facilitator. She is a high school business teacher and department chair certified in Business, Marketing, and Information Technology (6-12.) Her passion is writing for her website, Being Benedictine, and leading retreats in creativity and spirituality.