Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Morning Light on Old Windows

This is a window on an old barn, taken early in the morning a few months ago.
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Travel Thoughts

“Let us move on to the neighboring villages so that I may proclaim the good news there also. That is what I have come to do.” Mark 1, 29-39

I like the sense of movement in the Gospels – Jesus moving from day to day, village to village, from one group to another, one human need to another. There is no indication that he had a need to plan things out ahead of time. He seemed to go from place to place as he wanted or needed to do so.

Most of us do not have the freedom to hit the road as such, to branch out in whatever direction we would like. We are in our jobs, our relationships, our vows and marriages. These and other commitments keep our circle of movement fairly predictable and given. We are then involved in a different kind of movement – not one of miles or villages, but of relationships responsibilities.

“Grace” may be a word that has fallen out of fashion or usage. I think its meaning is still as real as it was when the word was more in vogue. Grace is that special gift of God’s own life within us. Grace is relationship with God. And grace is therefore the life of the spirit as revealed through the gifts of joy, perseverance, patience, kindness, goodness, truth. These are gifts that enhance any life. Jesus moved from place to place and told of the grace of God that was at hand wherever he went. He offered the availability of knowing God’s love through loving. That is a good place to be, and no one of us has to travel very far to find it.

Sunday, July 02, 2006



I wanted to write a piece about a flower – I wanted to get a picture of one and write how it comes from a seed and how we come from much the same and yet we need love to blossom. I wanted to write about how wondrous it is that God brings such beauty out of something as tiny as a seed.

Beauty emerges wondrously from so many things.

Will God bring life out of death? I hope so – I am not sure. How can one be sure of such a mystery?

When I see a flower and know that there are trillions of them, I realize that we cannot create even one. And they are so beautiful, so very beautiful. Such a finely crafted and living mystery – with colors that entice and attract, petals that absorb and little veins that sustain, with roots that nurture and stems that wave in the breeze and, yes, there are the wondrous places in each flower where more seeds are made – to be given to the wind, dropped to the ground, consumed by a bird – so that there will be more and more flowers and beauty, over and over again.

It is said that God is everywhere and I like that and believe that, though it is a presence I am rarely conscious of.

God has colors and petals and seeds and is as well the sun and the rain and the wind - and a child smiled at me and it was the most beautiful thing I saw today. I looked for a flower and was given a child.

You were by the lake and your Uncle Chaminade gave you bread to feed the geese and you laughed and took the bread from his hand. And I took your picture as you stood on the shore of the lake, as you watched for magic things, like turtles and geese, ducks and the movement of the waters. It was beautiful. It was yesterday, was it not? Just a while ago. And then I left you, with your image in my camera and your face and life in my heart. You looked at me a lot and smiled and probably do not know my name, but that is okay. I remember when I was young and there were a lot of older people and I did not think back then about knowing their names. Maybe your Mama may tell you who I was, the monk with the camera.

And life is, indeed, a little while. We do not have each other very long, though you do not yet know that. You gazed out at the lake and you saw it with the eyes of a child, looking at things that fascinated you and made you smile. And I saw your Mama and Grandma pick you up and hold you and kiss you, and they said that they loved you – but as they spoke your eyes were yet on the lake and I understood that.

We hear, feel, and look and look and look. The waves promised more with each ripple, with each passing moment. It is good that you listened and looked. Some day I hope you connect the voice you heard, the love that held you, with the place where you were looking. It is all one.

Someday you may think about how it is that you looked at a lake and could make the waves come to you, with the magic that they bring. The waves came and brought turtles and geese. You reached out and took bread, and fed the geese.

And such is life. You will grow and hopefully be held and know more love, and waves will come, bringing children and friends, and, yes, even more geese and turtles. And your heart will grow, as will your vision. And you will be held and told you are loved, and may even then look beyond, to see the waves – and that is good. And I hope all good things come to you on those eternal waters– and that you feed them, and listen to who holds you, and run, run, to each wave and share that love with whoever comes ashore.

It all comes, in little and eternal whiles, wave after wave.

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Saturday, July 01, 2006

Watching Her Dance

Watching Her Dance

There was a small luncheonette on a small street in the town where I grew up. I used to go there with my friends when I was in high school and we would sit in a booth and have sodas and french fries. There was no menu. There was a chalk board with the day's offerings and those few. A cake or a pie sat beneath a plastic covered plate which was on the long counter. On the wall behind the cash register were stacked rows of cigarettes - the most plentiful items in the store. The floor was red linoleum. And it was there that she danced.
I remember the day I first saw her. I was alone, sitting in a booth waiting for my friends and she was sitting on a stool at the counter. She was by herself and seemed to know the owner - an older woman - very well. They had that way of talking and laughing. She had blond hair and it was long and hung down her back in a pony-tail. She wore tight pants and slippers and a white blouse. The shirt-tails of the blouse were tied in a knot at her waist. She was, I thought, so pretty. I watched her talk and laugh and then she took a cigarette from her large purse, lit the cigarette and inhaled and then thought of something that made her laugh. She coughed and laughed at the same time - and then took a long drag from the cigarette. She got off the stool and I then saw that one leg was shorter than the other - she had to drag her left leg behind her and her body moved up and down a bit as she made her way to the jukebox. She put in a coin and I watched the record rise amidst the colored lights beneath the plastic dome of the jukebox and then gently come to rest. The volume was turned up and I heard the "hiss" of the blank first seconds of the 45 and then on came "Let Me In." Do you remember that song? I remember the melody and the words but not who sang it.
And I remember her stepping back carefully from the jukebox and then dancing by herself. The song has a "shimmy" beat to it, and her feet slapped the floor as she moved to the music. Her bad leg dragged behind her good one and she snapped her fingers to the beat and closed her eyes and danced. The woman behind the counter looked at her and smiled. I watched and had no idea then that I would remember that woman and her song and her dance for many years. For it was just a small place, and a pretty woman, and a rock n'roll song and a kid who watched the pretty woman dance.
That was almost forty years ago. Wherever she is, I hope she still dances and laughs. And I hope there are those who watch and learn to carry as well - and with a song - the hurts in their lives. "Let Me In" was her special song. And let her in did. I have never danced as well as her. But she is still teaching me, every time I sing that song in my head and think of her, moving across a red linoleum floor and not missing a beat, somehow still asking me to follow and learn.

Scenes from Cartersville

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I gave a talk at a small parish, St. Francis of Assisi, in Cartersville, Georgia this morning. I drove there last yesterday afternoon and spent the night in the rectory, which is actually a nice house not far from the church. It took me over two and a half hours to get there – there was a lot of holiday traffic on Interstate 75. I did not mind – I inched along and listened to music and watched the sun go down ahead of me. The pastor, Daniel Stack, is a real nice guy and he was kind enough to make dinner for me when I arrived. He is a good cook – he made some pasta with cheese and pesto. It was good. He has a big dog named Beulah and she is a lot of fun.

The talk went well. I shared with the people some thoughts on spirituality and writing and some things about my life here at the monastery. I told them about a writer I have lately been reading – the late Irish writer John McGahern. His book, “A Memoir – All Will be Well” is a wonderful read. He writes so beautifully about his youth in Ireland. Dan had just returned from a trip to Ireland and I mentioned to him that he might really like the book. McGahern also wrote some novels, some of which I have here but have not gotten to them yet.

I returned here this morning. The talk was at eight – at a breakfast kind of thing. I enjoyed chatting with the people at the table. It reminded me of my years in parish life and how the church simply is people, in all their varieties, needs, gifts and goodness. I think that good spiritual writing is that which opens up the reader’s heart to the goodness that is his or hers in life – given by virtue of being alive and having a heart. Spiritual writing should not give on the illusion that spirituality is something to be “achieved” with right practice or proper virtue. The practice and virtue are tied up with taking a good look at one’s life with the help of words that enable you to see and love who you are and where you are at.