Friday, June 30, 2006
Thursday, June 29, 2006
There is a song “Thirsty Boots” by Eric Anderson. I cannot remember what the song is about and I now wonder what it means that boots have thirst. Maybe the words mean that a person’s feet can thirst for the road, if the place one needs to go is important enough.
Some people get their boots wet and they need to dry. Others may want their boots to get wet and so they leave them on a window sill or on the road. It is hard to tell, sometimes, why people do the things that they do.
But the song says that boots get thirsty.
And I look about me and try to understand that people do some funny things, things that may seem strange at first. But a song can be written about them and beauty can be made from them. It is a nice way, I think, to walk through life and to take what may seem strange and give it a place of beauty in a song or on a page. We all thirst for something good – and it is worth the walk to get our feet wet and find it.
Day before yesterday, I was with the people who are with us on retreat. We gathered in the upper room of the retreat house. It was late afternoon and we had all left what we were doing to be with each other to share some words on Thomas Merton.
The lights were out but the room was not dark. Victor Kramer, a professor of religious studies who is a Merton scholar, asked us if we wanted the lights turned on and we said no, that it was good. We were able to see quite well. The darkened room perhaps gave a welcome allusion that it was not really close to one hundred degrees outside.
I sat near Victor as he spoke about Merton. He spoke warmly about Merton’s writings and the relevance of his works to this day.
From where I sat I could see the faces of everyone. A window was letting in a generous amount of light. I looked at the window and saw the branches of a tree, with blossoms on it, swaying gently in the soft breeze of a late June afternoon. The light was soft. Those sitting nearest the window were bathed in that light and they looked especially beautiful. They were bright and I thought of angels as I looked at them and wished I could have taken a picture, to capture that image, to keep it.
We listened to Victor’s finely crafted words. I listened and watched the light shine and the breeze blowing and the people, their smiles and eyes, and wondered about their hopes for the weekend. I suppose that one sure hope is that they come away from us with a better appreciation of Thomas Merton and our life here.
The Gospel that morning told a story of terror, fear, power and awe. Jesus speaks to the winds and calms the seas. He rebukes the disciples for having little faith. They are awed by who he is and what he does, how his words are possessed of great power.
And so it is that this Gospel might inspire one to ponder the power that is God and to seek a way to bring it back – it is common to pray to God to alter the weather, to still the seas, to detour the wind.
We look for great things from God. We turn to him to show us his power, to calm the winds and seas of our lives.
Yet the seas heave and the winds come.
Jesus would tell of God’s power as manifested in the small, the hidden, the obscure, the every-day, the seemingly mundane. And people would ponder the meaning of small things, trying to learn the meaning of a seed bearing power, of common bread and wine as divine food, of a flower revealing splendor and glory.
And we gathered in a room with light and each other, and a gentle breeze and the hope that we understand something of God, the God who comes in light and darkness, in the wind and in the smiles and eyes and hopes of people.
It can take years to appreciate the splendor of any single day. The awesome gift that is any late June afternoon, when people gather to better know Who it is who is in them, seeking the light that shines everywhere, wanting to hold the winds that caress each branch. We try and capture it with a camera or our words as if to hold still what we are – while God’s love and power take it back, only to give us more.
Wednesday, June 28, 2006
A few days ago I had to go to the airport to pick up one of the monks, Tom Francis.
I was given the Stratus.
I pulled the car out of the garage and noticed a strange light on the dashboard.
It was some kind of a warning light. I could not tell what it meant but took a risk and hit the road. It was hot and I was lazy and hoped that the car would make it to the airport and back.
The light stayed on all the way.
But the car seemed to work fine the whole trip.
Tom’s flight was on time. It was good to see him. I never told him about the light on the dashboard, which was still on as we drove and he told me about his trip. The world of immediacy was fine – the car moved, it was a nice evening, the meaning of the light faded as long as the car moved.
I made a mental note to tell Mike Wilson, our mechanic, about the light but forgot to say anything to him. Now I am aware that I put others in peril through my neglect, my forgetfulness. It was not intentional – it was just one of those things, as the saying goes.
I saw Mike a few days later and then remembered to tell him. He had already noticed it and had fixed it, so my warning to him was deflated. He then said that it was an indicator light that the gas cap was not properly fastened. He said that are three clicks when you attach the gas cap and if those three clicks do not happen that means that the cap is loose, that air is going to get in, and then that air will get into the gas tank and then the gas line. Then you are doomed, stranded somewhere and in desperate need of help on some crazy highway of life with thousands of people passing and not one stopping to help because they may get killed, or do not have the time or the interest, or are just like many of us who routinely pass by people with unscrewed gas caps of mind, heart, or Stratuses.
And such is life. I confess guilt for trying to get the most mileage out of life while ignoring more than one warning on my dashboard.
Jesus tells of prophets and how to recognize them – that we will know them by their fruits. I do not know what to say about the major prophets. Most people did not listen to them and I am afraid I would easily fall into that category. For as long as life seems to move along, even when there are warnings galore on the dashboard of existence, I hope to get by.
I do not know if any great prophet is on the horizon. At times I wonder if God has shifted his way of operating with us. If, out of an exasperated
Three simple clicks of a gas cap assure that a ride will go well. Such a small thing that if done has enormous ramifications that can last for miles.
There will be acts of kindness this day, done with no expectation of paybacks, all of them hidden. They will never find their way into print or any kind of cultural notoriety. Such small things that, when done, presence the prophetic word in our midst – right before our eyes, like a small light on a dashboard.
Tuesday, June 27, 2006
Where is the Gate?
Roads hold the promise of a direction and gates signal an arrival. We all know that life has many roads and gates. As far as the way to paradise, we live with a sense that it is a matter of getting from here to there and the opening to Heaven will be known by its Pearly Gates.
So it is that we live our days with our hearts set on passing from this life to the next, hoping to find when we die a magnificent Gate, maybe even one made of precious pearls.
Yet Jesus says that the road to life is rough and its gate narrow, and that there are few who find it.
Jesus said as well “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life and no one comes to the Father except through Me.”
He is then the road and the gate.
Many look this day for variations of easier roads and finely crafted gates. And it is understandable that they look down the road a piece for something shining in the distance, something wondrous that will open to them.
It is hard to love. It is hard to be that vulnerable to each other, be it in marriage, friendship, community life, an office, a ride on a bus. There are claims galore on our time, our hearts, our energies, our imaginations.
The Spirit dwells in our hearts. We hear these words every day in their liturgical context and they remind us that we embody a road and a gate. The Gate to life opens a bit when we risk all that we can be and do for each other. The road is eased when we help each other walk it.
I think it is that simple – yet at the same time, that difficult.
We look for pearls and God constantly gives us each other.
Saturday, June 24, 2006
Fr. Damien Thompson, on the left, is the Abbot of our monastery in Gethsemani, Kentucky. He was here for a few days a couple of weeks ago. He met with most of the monks and we enjoyed having him here. He was in Maryknoll for many years and then became a Trappist monk.
Fr. Ed Morley, in the right, is one of ours and he is from Philadelphia. We wash dishes together and I can always count on him to get me laughing with one or more of his jokes. He handles all the incoming office-related mail and does a lot of correspondence related work for the Abbot.
Mark is our infirmarian. He has a real gift for caring for the sick and the elderly. There are eight men in our infirmary now and some are in need of a lot of hands-on care. They are all well cared for. Mark lived in a lot of places when he was young, including Panama. His family later moved to St. Louis. If he ever needs another job he could be a stand-in for ZZ Top.
Guerric was professed this past March 25th. He is from Connecticut and I enjoyed meeting his family when they were here for his profession. Guerric's main, but not only, job here is cooking. He is a wonderful cook and can make sand taste good. He is also on the business committee and helps out in the infirmary. We share this office where I read and write and he is real pleasant company.
Francis Michael is our Abbot. He is from Philadelphia and entered the Trappist Order here, at Conyers, in 1974. It is an easy date for me to remember because it was the year that I was ordained. We are all blessed with him as our Abbot. He is doing a fine job at a time in history when being an Abbot brings with it a lot of challenges. This picture was taken at a meeting we had with architects who are proposing different possibilities as regards some future projects.
Chaminade is from Ohio and he maintains our website trappist.net. He is also gifted with writing and photography. I hope to do a book with him one of these days - pictures of our life here with some essays..
Augustine is out tallest monk. He is easy to spot in any crowd. He is originally from Chicago. He was professed last year. He has many jobs here, one of which is assigning the work among the monks and making sure that things run smoothly - not an easy job because of the size of the place and the constant need for manpower. He does well with it though and things that need to be done get done.
My first day of school was in September of 1953 when my mom brought me to kindergarten. She stayed a while and left. I wonder if I cried. It must have been a terrifying day for me. I was deposited into the land of strange, needy, new lives. It was a time when the need for friendship was to take some new twists in an unknown territory. I was to learn a lot of things. I know I went there not consciously looking for friendship but within a day or two it became a top priority. I needed friendship to get through those early storms of life.
There were a lot of kids and there was the teacher, Mrs. Temple. Mrs. Temple was a white lady. The kids were of many colors. And they were of different religions, too, though I did not think about that then. It did not matter then – but it sure was to matter later. It did not seem to matter to Mrs. Temple. Looking back, I think that was good. Maybe she was some sort of prophetess.
It was the
I soon made friends and was to discover that this world is inhabited by the good and the bad, fast and the slow, the strong and the weak, the secure and the jealous, scoundrels and villains and heroes and rascals. These and more were evidenced in my first year of involvement with the human race at large, in small sizes.
It is now 2006. I am in a monastery. It is a Saturday. My sister dropped me off here twelve years ago. She did not stay. She left right away. I think I cried then, too.
There are a lot of men here. Our abbot is a white man. We call ourselves brothers and we are of different colors, just like it was in the
There are no shorts allowed here but we can and do wear nice shoes.
We use magic markers for our big announcement board. It is the feast of John the Baptist, who was a very close friend of Jesus. We will have soda and maybe cookies for lunch. We will hear stories later and they will be read to us. We sing every day but do not clap too much. The floors here are huge. Some are shiny and some are not. It is all planned out and I had nothing to do with it. I just have to show up and behave myself.
This place is called the
It is a rich life here. I soon made friends and was to discover that this world is inhabited by the good and the bad, the fast and the slow, the strong and the weak, the secure and the jealous, scoundrels and villains and heroes and rascals. These and more were evidenced in my forty-sixth year of involvement with the human race at large, in larger and monastic sizes.
Things do not change all that much.
It may rain today – another storm. One of many in life.
I think we sang about Mr. Sun in kindergarten. The sun is good – I learned that a long time ago. Something about taking both the sun and the rain in life. Both are good, though the sunny days are better.
I was thinking about friendship this morning, very early, while in the church with everybody. We were chanting the psalms and as I looked about me my heart felt good at first – I looked at Chaminade and Augustine and Guerric and Ed and Eutropius and Mark and some others and pondered their being my friends. But the more I pondered, the more I wondered if I have been a good friend to them. I have a feeling I could think about that all day long and may find, at the end of a day of such thinking, that I am still hoping to be a good friend, like at the
Is the heart ever settled?
I hope I am living well my restlessness.
Friendship is a gift. When it comes, it opens your heart so much that you want to share all you have and are with your friend.
I think that is what God did and does for us through Jesus. God became our friend and walks in friendship with everybody. He has been a good friend to me my whole life, for he has come to me through many friendships all these years.
And there is the rub.
I hope I have been a good friend to him. I know how easily friendship can be taken for granted, even damaged, abused, forgotten.
Jesus asks that we lay down our lives for each other in friendship, in service, in love. It is not an easy thing to do. It is easy to write about but not easy to live.
I like my friends here in this last school of my life. It is a life that offers many ways to befriend God and each other.
After many years of reading and writing, traveling and being, uh, religious, the bottom line was right there in my midst in the
Bottom lines are bottom because they do not change.
The line has not changed an iota. And it is a line that has been drawn all through the years of my life.
And this is what the line says: Learn friendship and learn God.
The line comes every day.
It came a long time ago, with the ginger snaps and lemonade.
It is coming, too, this day, with the soda and cake and Eucharist.
It is all planned out and I had nothing to do with it. I just have to show up and behave myself.
With my friends. Rain or shine.
Friday, June 23, 2006
The truck arrived with boxes and other shipping supplies. The driver jumped out and looked about and waved and smiled at me. I introduced myself and he smiled again and told me his name, “Louis,” but said it was not his real name. He was Vietnamese and we chatted as we unloaded the materials from the truck. He fled
He said that he was going to
When he left, he smiled again and gave me the “V” peace sign. I took his picture and it came out well – his smile, his wish of peace.
I wish we had had more time to talk. He is surely a man who has suffered much in his life – he told me about relatives who were killed in the war, about people he loved and would never see again. He told me how hard it was coming to the
All about us people are leaving what was familiar and coming here, to find a new life. They are causing a lot of worries in many quarters as to their illegal status, their refusal or inability to learn English, their unfamiliarity with the American way of life.
Louis never told me his real name. I thought later that it is hard for any one of us to say who we really “are.” Our deepest selves shy away from speaking words that come from the heart – words of love or friendship, longing and desire.
Louis wished me peace and smiled and said he would come back, and bring his wife and children. I will welcome him at Eucharist and share peace. We will share what we never spoke of – but who we really were and are, beneath our names, our smiles.
Thursday, June 22, 2006
The Japanese are artists when it comes to economizing on space - the cartons are perfectly sized and placed on the container so that there is little room for the shifting of the packages.
We order a shipment of new bonsai pottery from Japan at least once a year. The pots travel by container ship and take several months to get here. Here is Eutropius, helping unload the packages out of the container. He is originally from Jacksonville, Florida and is handy with a lot of things. It takes about a day to unload all the cartons and then another few days to open them all and get the items numbered and on the shelves. We are about ready to order another container - business has been good.
Tuesday, June 20, 2006
This big red door on the barn swings open every now and then. Not too long ago a hawk flew in and could not get out until we got a local guy to come by and get him. The man raises hawks and did not have too difficult a time enticing the hawk out with some pieces of meat.
A friend recently told me that the best times to take digital photographs are early morning and late afternoon, when the sun is bright and illumines everything with a golden hue. He is right. The pictures are all the better for the more generous play of clear, gold light.
I have never read that in a manual, though I suppose it is there, someplace. It is common sense, when I think about it. Early and late light offer the brightest or clearest light. Everything looks more beautiful.
I learn from light. Most of day’s light is soft and even dull, say on a cloudy day. Gray days are good for pictures, too, if you are into shades of blacks and grays and whites. I personally like black and white photographs – I can better ponder the subject of such photos. There is more of a “presence” to them. Or at least it seems that way to me.
It is said that God is light. We all seek God with the lights given us, no matter what our beliefs. We see with delight in the mornings and some early evenings and it is good. Most of life is the in-between time, though, the times of shade, overcast skies, diffuse light, lack of clarity. But God is that light, too, even though I often wish the image to be had was sharp and clear and sure.
I tried to take a picture of the full moon. It was far but bright and it bathed the monastery fields in a soft, silvery light. The picture came out okay – and then I aimed the camera at the field and the image I captured was beautiful. I had to place the camera on a fence post as the image took several seconds to settle onto the card.
So even at night, if I am still and watchful, I can capture some light.
And life I guess is like that, too.
If I learn to be still and hold what I love with care, the little light that may be there reveals much. It offers its beauty even on the darkest of nights.
I am grateful for the morning and afternoon light. It is easy to see at those times.
But I want to learn to better see at night, too, and to love what is there. God made both light and darkness and if we move in the light and become still in the dark, the light comes, revealing what beauty there is to be seen.
Monday, June 19, 2006
The South River flows through our property. Chaminade asked me if I would like to take a boat ride with him and I was glad that he asked me. It was not something I would have thought of doing on my own. We loaded the aluminum boat on a van and Augustine drove us to the river and said that he would pick us up down on the bridge at Oglesby Bridge Road three hours later at the far end of our property. It was a beautiful morning, sunny and cool.
We got into the boat and we headed south. Each of us had two oars and the River was calm. For much of the way we held the oars inside the boat and let the current glide us along. I looked about a lot, hoping to see some animals. We did see a hawk flying high above us, screeching as if to get our attention. Chaminade saw a deer ahead of us on the bank of the River but it bounded away as soon as it caught sight of the boat.
We got stuck twice on submerged logs but with Chaminade’s deft handling of the oars we were soon back to an easy glide on the River.
It was so peaceful and silent and we both commented on that. The only sounds that we heard most of the time were the chirping of the birds and the soft splashing of the water as the oars broke its surface. We were able to maneuver the boat by rowing on different sides. As we moved down the River, we chatted about a lot of things – our life here, how things are with our families. We spoke of writing and rowing, we spoke of the silence about us and the beauty of the day.
A voice called out and looking up to see who it was, we spotted our abbot, Francis Michael, who had driven down in his van. He called again and we rowed over to where he was and chatted with him for a while. He took pictures of us, which I hope to see later. We then continued on our way and Chaminade said that we were near the place where Augustine would be waiting for us. The three hours passed by quickly.
We reached the bridge at Oglesby Bridge Road and Augustine was not yet there. We pulled the boat out of the water and carried it up a rather steep incline, rested a bit, and then carried it the rest of the way to the road. Augustine arrived and we loaded the boat into the van and headed back to the monastery. He brought some candy bars for us from the Monastery and they were good.
It was all good. Chaminade’s asking me to go was like rousing me from my typical routine of either writing or reading, of hanging out somewhere here on the property with the ground beneath my feet or a chair beneath my rear end.
As we rowed I thought about the rousing that is God’s call to each of us in life. It is a call to be attentive to him, to be loving to each other, to live life with care and to know oneself through love. It may sound like a lot, but if life can be likened to a trip on a River with a friend who is loved, I think I relearned something yesterday.
Chaminade rowed behind me – I could not see him for most of the trip but could hear him. I felt the boat move in slightly different directions as he guided it with the oars. He gave me a bottle of water and some cookies he had brought. He was careful to tell me things – about the hawk above and tell-tale high water marks on the banks and trees. I could sense that he wanted to share with me what he knew and liked about his previous trips on the River.
The three hours passed by quickly. And so does life.
I have often wondered if God exists anymore as a Being in and of himself, as a separate Divine Entity. Maybe one time he did. But since the Incarnation, when he became one with creation, how could He exist apart from life and within it at the same time? Maybe it is a mystery and I should let it go at that. So I will never know for sure just how God is in this life. But I do know that the waters pass beneath me every day and there are voices near me, guiding me along for smooth sailing. Gifts are given – food and water and friendship, beauty and surprise visits from friends on near shores. We are a living part of each other. I feel that as I move through life and listen and feel a voice within me, behind me, and at a distance, calling to me.
I like to think about these things, and write about them.
Strange, how I say we sailed the river when it is truer to say that the river took us. We were taken along by its currents. The hardest part was carrying the boat. So it seems that life is heavy at times, but once we get with the flow, it moves us along.
Augustine told me recently that he was writing something and was fascinated with how as he was writing the words on a piece of paper, memories came to him. I knew what he meant and told him that words, once taken and written, have a life to them and they bring us wonderful things – like memories. You put a hand to paper and the words bring gifts. I think of him as I write this, when I put an oar into water and words come to me, too. Words flow to us from everything – once we are roused and write, or row, or touch our dreams.
Chaminade roused me from a routine and we sailed on the South River and the water now seems to me like words – words flowing and moving, whispering and gently loving, as we let the waters take us, further south, further into God who will someday be there to pick us up, and take us home.
For someday this River of Life will take a new and strange bend. It will be the end of life as I know it. And Someone will be there, waiting to take me to a new home. Maybe He will bring food from that place. I will tell him my memories, about a River ride with a friend, and he will give me something to eat and tell me that he was there, just behind me and above me, all along. And He will speak and I will know the voice and recognize the face as the same that was behind me and near me my whole life, telling me things about sailing, about friendship, about how he was in me and Augustine and Chaminade and maybe even in the hawk that flew so high above South River.