Saturday, November 28, 2009

Lost and Found

I have been thinking a lot about him ever since I read about him in the paper. His name is Francisco. He is thirteen- years-old and he was lost. He lives in New York and it might be closer to the truth to say that he intentionally moved into the realm of the lost. He did so by running away from his home and riding the subways. He spent eleven days and nights riding miles beneath the vast city above him, managing to evade detection even though he rode in plain sight. He survived on what little he could buy from newsstands. He stretched the ten dollars he had and bought potato chips, croissants and jelly rolls. He drank bottled water. He used a bathroom at the Coney Island Station to wash his face and scrub his teeth.
Francisco has Asperger’s syndrome, a form of autism that makes social relations difficult and that can sometimes lead to isolation. A kid like Francisco has a hard time learning to connect – a painful condition as it is but especially so in a society that places such a premium on any kind of connectedness. Francisco struggles to communicate what is within his heart and on his mind – especially when a situation bears down on him demanding an immediate response. He felt he was in trouble at school and was afraid to go home. So, he sought a hiding place on the subway and rode train after train until he was spotted by an alert policeman. The policeman was one of many looking for Francisco and recognized the little boy from a flier that had been distributed throughout every precinct in the New York and surrounding areas.
But Francisco never saw the signs and according to one article I read, he said that he was prepared to remain in the subway system forever.
His family will have an especially happy thanksgiving because Francisco will be home, at the table, surrounded by a grateful and loving family. Yet his mom worries that it will happen again. She knows that Francisco might panic and bolt again if he feels trapped by his inability to communicate. “I tell him: “Talk to me. Tell me what you need. If I ever make a mistake, tell me.” She paused and said, “I don’t know, as a mother, how to get to his heart, to find out what hurts.”
I wonder how many of us identify with Francisco. We might be adults, even well on in years, and yet the sense of feeling lost may lie close beneath the surface of our lives. Life is such a long ride, and we all have difficulty communication who we are or where we really need to go, or even where we come from. There are no maps, no education, and no kind of learning or fortune-teller who can give us the definite answers to the mysteries of life. Yet there are miles and miles ahead of us. And we ride with a hope that God will somehow find us and bring us home.
Francisco is and always was surrounded by a lot of love. He lost a sense of it as he rode. He said he felt numb and lost a sense of time. But that did not stop others from looking for him and loving him all the more when he was found.
I do not think there are any sure answers in this life. But I do think we can cultivate a sensitivity to the lost riders that we all are, and trust that we will all be found. That is something for which to be thankful. And perhaps we should remember this: that God rides within us, within each of us, and has found out to reach out and offer a warn direction to those who ride with a quiet desperation. Human kindness goes a long way, and can ease the pain of an eleven day ride in the dark or a lifetime of searching in the bright light of day. It is God’s way of getting to our hearts.

Friday, November 20, 2009


This year has flown by so fast. I realize that I am using a well worn cliché, but I cannot help but look back and wonder where the year went. Here at the monastery we are already preparing for the busy year’s end. Orders will soon be coming in for our Abbey Store items. A team of monks has been busy making enough fruit cakes, fudge and other food items to ship out during the Christmas Season. Soon, much of Conyers will follow the pattern of much of the world as lights are strung across streets and on the limbs of trees, Christmas lights that can easily lift the mood of many a traveler. The stores will soon be stocked with all kinds of gifts that can be bought, wrapped and given away to loved ones. And the Post Office will swell with tens of thousands of cards and letters, missives that express a hope for a good and holy season.
Thanksgiving is just days away. In some ways, it is a day that heralds the onset of the Christmas Season and I want to suggest a way to blend the two feasts together.
Not long ago I read a quote from Joyce Carol Oates. She mentioned how little she feels she has accomplished when she looks back on her life. Ms. Oates has written an incredibly large number of novels, essays, book reviews and critical commentaries. In terms of the written word, there are very few genres that have eluded her grasp. She has a gift for verbal amplitude and the quality of her output is as good as it is massive.
I read “We Were the Mulvaneys,” a novel she published not too long ago and loved it. The story is powerful and it still resonates within me. I suppose in a significant way, Ms. Oates’s words have become a part of me. I learned something from them, from her. And I learned good things about life, love, suffering and redemption. I am surely not alone in what I took in from Ms. Oates’s labors. Her words have found a home in the hearts of millions. Yet, she probably cannot grasp the import of her words. I do not think any author is capable of that, of measuring how far and deep their words have traveled and taken root. But take root they do.
We will soon celebrate the mystery of God’s Word being born among us. It is far off – there is much to do between now and Christmas. But the Word to be born is speaking now and we can hear and share in that language. It is the language of love, the words that speak compassion, hope, forgiveness, kindness, beauty. God speaks through us. He is born every day through us. We probably do not think of that, when we speak words from the depths of our hearts and hopes. But so much is accomplished through what we say and how we say it, on the most ordinary of our days. Life is a harvest of words, words spoken, words that take root in the rich soil of the fields of life.
Thanksgiving is a time to be grateful for the gift of language, the gift of speaking. It is a time to look back and ponder the mystery of all that we have said, and how all of it accomplishes something through the power that is God through language. Words bring society, friendship, culture and hope into being. Words are among the most important living stones in the building of God’s Kingdom among us.
The meaning of Christmas has much to do with the gift of the Word. A Word is spoken to us and lives among us and within us. We can draw the feast near, as near as this day, through a careful and tender use of words. It is a gift for which we should be grateful, for God is born again and again through our finding him through the language of love.

Friday, November 13, 2009

On Humility

We believe that Jesus is the revelation of God – the face of God, if you will. It is through Jesus that we are given a living window to the Divine, to where we come from. Teachings of Jesus tell us something of what God is like.
Jesus on occasion highlighted the importance of humility. And so we can push the envelope a bit and ponder the humility of God and what it means for us, who are made in God’s image. We are asked in the gospel to not be afraid to take a back seat. Andy Warhol once said that in the future everyone would get what they so desperately want – that is, five or so minutes of fame. Christians are asked to be at the other end of the spectrum.
We are dealing with a hidden God, a God who is all through creation and peeks out a bit through the Incarnation, and then recedes, recedes into us and all that is about us and around us. And this is the startling truth of it all – that being is truthful in its humility. A friend of mine recently said that truth is humble, that humility is truth. If God has taken a back seat in creation, perhaps the cue for us is to trust the guy in the rear of the theater. He is watching what he has created from a distance, yet is, at the same time, in the midst of the audience.
Maybe he has a camera, too.
A few weeks ago a photographer died and his name was Roy DeCarava. He was raised by a single mother in Harlem. He never moved far from there. He remained in New York City his entire life and photographed thousands of scenes of the ordinarily sublime. Perhaps his most famous photograph is of a little girl in a white, pristine graduation dress, heading down a desolate, shadowed street somewhere in a long ago Harlem. I looked at other photographs of his on the Internet and they capture a beauty of life that survives, and even shines, in desolate surroundings. He taught at Hunter College and tried to impart to his students a sense of photography’s unique power. Of the scenes that he captured through his lens, he said, as quoted in his obituary, that “It doesn’t have to be pretty to be true. But if it is true, it is beautiful. Truth is beautiful. And so my whole work is about what amounts to a reverence for life itself.”
I like to think that in what he saw in life, and what he made lasting and beautiful through the magic of his camera, offer us more than a glimmer of the relationship between God, humility and ourselves. If truth is all about us, this life as Word that is spoken from a shy, reserved creator, we are then asked to humbly seek the beauty that is everywhere and in everyone, perhaps especially in those places and persons that are not very pretty. God is telling us something through these. You can hear him by looking at some photographs.