“What I feared has not happened”

Jan Steen's painted two more scenes from the B...

Jan Steen The Marriage Contract (Book of Tobit; Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We’re reading the book of Tobit at Evening Prayer this week.  It is one of the Bible’s novellas, weaving the lives of improbable characters together in unusual ways. It often produces a smile while delivering some spiritual nourishment.

Raguel has seen seven bridegrooms suddenly die just after their wedding to his daughter Sarah. When Tobias wants to marry her – knowing the history – Raguel agrees. But, certain of the outcome, he starts to dig Tobias’ grave as soon as they go to bed.

Raguel’s actions make sense. It’s human to protect our hearts, to expect little to avoid great disappointment. Especially in the midst of difficulties, we relinquish the hope of surprising joy to stave off the risk of sorrow and pain.

“Hope is a constant miracle.” ~Pope Francis

But Tobias and Sarah survive their wedding night.  And Raguel’s world opens up again.  He  prays in surprise, “You are blessed, my God. What I feared has not happened. Instead you have shown us your boundless mercy.”

When Raguel peeked into the bedroom and saw that Tobias had survived, he filled the grave back up before breakfast.

Do you have a grave in your life that needs to be filled?

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The Artist’s Rule – New, Unknown, Now

New - Unknown - Now

New – Unknown – Now

Away for one week at a contemplative abbey, my only internet a half-smart phone, I took up “The Artist’s Rule” by Benedictine Oblate Christine Valters Paintner. Subtitled “nurturing your creative soul with monastic wisdom,” it seemed just right – and one of our Duluth Oblates spoke highly of it at our retreat in April.

My Zentangle adventures this spring (more on that another day) gave me courage to start out without worrying about making something “good enough.” So I packed my Zentangle notebook and tiles, a couple of other pens and — at the last minute — a set of colored pencils found while cleaning my late father’s home.

The Artist’s Rule breathes true to the Benedictine spirit: it begins with lectio divina, and takes that path into creativity. Week One (of twelve) ends with an exercise to lectio on Isaiah 48:6-7:

Now I am revealing new things to you,
Things hidden and unknown to you,
Created just now, this very moment.
Of these things you have heard nothing until now
So that you cannot say, Oh yes, I knew this.”

Christine Valters Paintner encourages the reader to listen for the word(s) that “sparkle” in the lectio, and use them as the starting point for drawing at each of the next phases: meditatio, contemplatio, and oratio — with shapes and colors.

Grateful for the colored pencils, I had a wonderful hour contemplating New, Unknown, Now from the ground up.

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Actions not words

English: Illustration of Petrarch's Triumph of...

English: Illustration of Petrarch’s Triumph of Chastity. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“To daily fulfill in one’s actions
the precepts of God;
to love chastity.”
(Rule of Benedict 4.63-64)

Organizations promote training to boost team spirit, reduce conflict, improve communication, or increase appreciation of diversity. Workers willingly adopt the ideas and language, but lasting change rarely occurs.

StBenedict’s plan of action is different. The measure is daily action, not ready acceptance of God’s precepts; he lists several. “Show me your generosity, your calm temper,” he seems to say.

The secular world sees chastity as repressive hindrance rather than spiritual practice to “maintain the integrity of the powers of life and love.” Benedictine life is “an apprenticeship in self-mastery”1 embraced willingly, able to love the limits that give us freedom.

1 Catechism of the Catholic Church §2334


Tooling Through Lent is a series of brief reflections on Chapter 4 of the Rule of Benedict, The Tools for Good Works.

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