Sunday, December 25, 2011

christmas morning

it is 9:30 on christmas morning, and i probably should be napping. last night, at midnight, amidst the songs of angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, the word became flesh on altars around the world, as eternity broke into our time. "when all things were in quiet silence, and night was in the midst of her swift course, thine almighty word, o lord, leaped down from heaven out of the roal throne, alleluia.'

and he who abhored not the virgin's womb condescended even to my tiny oratory. i was up 'til 2:30, some of the time wandering under the stars, which only occasionally peeked through the clouds which covered the sanctuary. then at 6:00 i was up again, for vespers and lauds and the shepherd's mass, the mass at daybreak. and it is in the gospel of that mass that the text which keeps me pondering, which keeps me awake, occurs. it is one of my favourite lines in all of the gospel: 'mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.'

there is a tendency, it seems, to assume that once mary said 'let it be to me according to thy word,' all would be clear to her. but apparently not. i suspect her life must have been like psalm 119, which i pondered for a while last night before the night was half spent, a long song of continual witness and supplication, hoping to understand this word that had been made flesh within her. i wonder if she is still pondering these things in her heart.

for another tendency we have about mary, it seems, is to make her our lady, the queen of heaven, some of us even calling her mediatrix, while forgetting she remains the maid of galilee. her story is the stuff of madeleine l'engle and charles williams, the story of a poor girl from a backwater town who gets swept up in the salvation of the world in a way that absolutely requires her full involvement.

pondering these things reminds me of what an entirely amazing event we celebrate at this time of the nativity of our lord. it is indeed the beginning of the recreation of the world, and in a way we mortals would probably never expect. for god takes flesh, while remaining very god of very god. in that flesh, the gift, the substance, as the preface of the feast says, of his mother, he will return to the right hand of the father. the holy one is forever changed by this event.

and mary, too, is forever changed. an humble maid is overcome by the holy spirit, becoming the first of the living stones in which the temple of emmanual is built. that is a lot to ponder. if the pious opinion that she was taken bodily into heaven is correct, then it is, as job says, in our flesh that we shall see our redeemer. and this wonder is possible, not because of some great thinking of the likes of augustine or ambrose or gregory (any of them) or aquinas in some great university, but because of the cooperation of a young girl from the poor countryside.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

the days were accomplished, that she should be delivered

Like the dawning of the morning

On the mountains’ golden heights,

Like the breaking of the moon-beams

On the gloom of cloudy nights;

Like a secret told by Angels,

Getting known upon the earth,

the Mother’s Expectation

Of Messiah’s speedy birth.

Thou wert happy, Blessed Mother,

With the very bliss of Heaven,

Since the Angel’s salutation

In thy raptured ear was given;

Since the Ave of that midnight,

When thou wert anointed Queen,

Like a river over-flowing

Hath the grace within thee been.

On the mountains of Judea,

Like the chariot of the Lord,

Thou wert lifted in thy spirit

By the uncreated Word;

Gifts and graces flowed upon thee

In a sweet celestial strife

And the growing of thy Burden

Was the lightening of thy life.

And what wonders have been in thee

All the day and all the night,

While the angels fell before thee,

To adore the Light of Light.

While the glory of the Father

Hath been in thee as a home,

And the sceptre of creation

Hath been wielded in thy womb.

And the sweet strains of the Psalmist

Were a joy beyond control,

And the visions of the prophets

Burnt like transports in thy soul;

But the Burden that was growing,

And was felt so tenderly,

It was Heaven, it was Heaven,

Come before its time to thee.

Oh the feeling of thy Burden,

It was touch and taste and sight;

It was newer still and newer,

All those nine months, day and night.

Like a treasure unexhausted,

Like a vision uconfess’d,

Like a rapture unforgotten,

It lay ever at they breast.

Every moment did that Burden

Press upon thee with new grace;

Happy Mother! Thou art longing

To behold the Saviour’s Face!

Oh his Human face and features

Must be passing sweet to see

Thou hast seen them, happy Mother!

Ah then, show them now to me.

Thou hast waited, Child of David,

And thy waiting now is o’er;

Thou hast seen Him, Blessed Mother

,And wilt see Him evermore!

O His Human Face and Features,

They were passing sweet to see;

Thou beholdest them this moment,

Mother, show them now to me.

Fr. F. F. Faber (1814-63)

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

a review before the nativity of christ

the eve of the first sunday of advent, i received a text message from a friend. he had a bible at work, but not a prayer book. what should he read for advent? isaiah. isaiah is the prophet of advent, perhaps even more than john the forefunner. so for the past weeks, readings from isaiah have filled the offices and the liturgy. they have been challenging and poignant. desperate and hopeful.

two years ago i wrote in my journal that, contrary to the school of scholars who search for some past- historical sitz im leben for isaiah, now, as ever, is his sitz-im-lebem. not much has changed in two years, except fear seems to be growing.

it is hard to know where to begin to discuss isaiah's work. he after all is the prophet who saw the glory of the lord even before the shepherds of the gospel according to luke. as the actual feast of the nativity draws near, in the time the eastern church calls the forefeast and the english church calls sapientiatide, the words of isaiah come even thicker, for instance, in the great 'o' antiphons* at vespers in the western rite.

so, as a sort of review for the nativity, i have been re-reading the whole of the book of isaiah today. it's a powerful read, especially in the jerusalem bible, which is made to be read but which does not so easily slip, in my mind at least, into the music of handel yet remains challenging poetry.

here is a sample, from chapter eight:

'. . . Yahweh spoke to me like this

when his hand seized hold of me

to turn me from walking in the path

that this people follows.

Do not call conspiracy

all that this people call conspiracy;

do not fear what they fear,

him you must dread.

He is the sanctuary and the stumbling stone

and the rock . . . .'

the temptation is to go on further. but instead, i invite you to make your own forefeast/sapientiatide review in these last remaining days before christmas. Isaiah's vision of the glory of the lord both resonates with that of mary, the mother of god, and with that of the shepherds, who were sore afraid:

'The mortal man will be humbled, man brought low;

. . .

'Human pride will lower its eyes,

the arrogance of man will be humbled.

. . .

'Human pride will be humbled,

the arrogance of man will be brought low.

Yahweh alone will be exalted

on that day,

and all idols thrown down.

'Go into the hollows of the rocks,

an ino the caverns of the earth,

at the sight of the terror of Yahweh,

at the brilliance of his majesty

when he arises

to make the earth quake' (2:9, 11, 17-19)

Monday, December 19, 2011

these things i command you, that ye love one another

about three years ago, a friend enticed me to facebook.  i signed up with trepidation, fearing it would eat my life.  there is always that possibility, but mostly i have found it a good thing.  i have become 'friends' with a wonderful variety of people, not only those i know from physical meetings, but also others, with whom i am now 'virtual' friends and with whom i share interests, and also books and music and prayers and real matterial-through-the-post-office correspondence.

but facebook has also made me even more aware of what a broken and sad world we find ourselves in these days.  yesterday, the fourth sunday of advent, as we 'prepare' for the coming of our god and king, a friend shared the above picture with me.  there are many ways we continue to slaughter the innocent.  alas, much of our preparation for the advent of the creator of the stars of night consists of getting and spending.

also yesterday the longest discussion amonst my facebook friends consisted mostly of a group of 'christians' telling other 'christians' that 'their' church as bereft of the spirit, or lacking in sacraments, or invalid.  i was reminded of the collect from the american book of common prayer which prays, 'open our eyes, o lord, to see thy hand at work in all creation.'  surely all creation must include all of the church, whatever a pope and a patriarch of constantinope said to each other a thousand years ago.  i mean, how were the people in tintagel to know that in 1054 they must decide whether the holy spirit was now acting through leo or michael.

and i was also reminded of a hymns by one of my favourite if sentimental poet, christina rosetti:  love comes down at christmas.  the link is to a setting by reginald o. morris, sung by the choir of king's college, cambridge.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

looking for avalon

'the glory of the lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.'

some days theme themselves.  this has been such a day for me.  it was one of those days of beauty peculiar to the northwest corner, with the temperature hovering around freezing and the clouds hovering around 1500 feet.  it has been the feast of st. lucy and st. herman, two holy people known for great vision, in lucy's case more so after casting out her physical eyes.  and it was a day i read maggie ross' blog post in which she considers the lines from one of last sunday's hymns, '... shine forth and let thy light restore earth's own true loveliness once more.'

it might seem that a day when the cloud covered the sanctuary, so to speak, would be less revelatory than one in which the sun shines clearly.  but often that is not the case.  to veil is often to reveal.  if you doubt this, compare the dance of the seven veils from salome with the dance of goldie hawn fromlaugh-in.  (if you're too young to know of laugh-in, i'm sure youtube can clue you.)

it was a day i found myself out of oatmeal, so, with ross's blog and ponderings about the day's saints dancing in my head, i set off down highway 101 the three miles to my neighborhood walmart.  i know:  walmart!  but if wisdom still 'crieth at the gates, at the entry of the city, at the coming in at the doors', there is no place more better described by those words than the local walmart.

walking along highway 101 can be a little disturbing.  one disturbance is the situation:  my 155 pounds of mortal flesh, pacing along at 3 mph., is constantly being approached by masses of steel and silicon weighing 2500 pounds and much more, whooshing by at 63 miles per hour or more. anyone of them could knock me to 'kingdom come'--in heaven, hopefully--at any instant.

more disburbing, and this is spoken to in ross' blog, is the way the drivers of those vehicles treat the road.  the sides are littered with all sorts of garbage, thrown out, i suppose, in order that their view of their fake-wooden dashboards be not blocked.  yet more disturbing is the whole activity of gasoline-powered transport.  western washington is a very blue state, where the same drivers who fuel their suburus and suburbans with the blood of edomite children are quick to rail against 'big oil' at dinner parties.  even the bus which i sometimes take still traffics in the blood of innocens, even if the servings per passenger are smaller.

but i am not looking for more evidence that we live in a seriously deranged world.  so, noticing that many of the cars--the suburus especially--have john muir club stickers on their read windows, i wish that more of them would walk as much as muir--another holy man who only came truly to see after being blinded--and hum a little bit of 'kyrie elieson on the highway that we travel' with mr. mister and look around, knowing that the kingdom of heaven, the isle of avalon, is closer at hand than any of the log trucks.

between farm lake road where i'm 'camped' and the walmart, the highway goes through the valleys of two creeks.  the first one, bagley creek's, is rather gentle, and gives long vistas towards the mountains to the south and the strait of juan de fuca to the north.  i stop at the entrance to the port angeles shooting club to look towards vancouver island, the southern isle in the archelelago that stretches up towards st. herman's spruce island, where he saw in the aleut and creole people around him not a source of slaves for the fur trade, but people just as loved by christ our god as any russians.  as the road curves to go down the much steeper slope of the canyon of morse creek, i am confronted with a hillside not of mere bushes on fire but towering firs ablaze with the crystal fire of winter.  i decide it's too cold to take off my sandles.

but, the glory of the lord was shining round about me, and i was, if not sore, then a bit afraid.  how can one see the glory of the holy, the eternal one, and not be a bit taken with shock and awe?  the book of proverbs says 'the fear of the lord is the beginning', both of knowledge and of wisdom.  but we have done as much as we can to insulate ourselves from thinking of the holy one as fearsome.  unless you are a member of an old calendar russian parish, perhaps, i expect you can't remember the last time you heard a sermon or a hymn suggesting that the holy might be fearsome.  the conglomorate of platitudes which are passed off as 'modern science', which have neither knowledge nor wisdom, have kept the holy safely at bay, warded off by air bags and climate control.  a healthy fear of god would certainly make us think twice before trashing the creation.   it is important to remember that the fear of the lord is only the beginning of wisdom, as is illustrated by the lives of so many saints, remarkably that of st. anthony of the desert, who emerged from his time in a tomb, radiant, saying 'once i feared god, now i love him.'  but if we do not start at the beginning, we will not reach the end.

what is needed is to see beyond the veil of advertising and trash, to see with the eyes of our heart, and then to wonder in the sight.  as ross says, 'it is our attitude that needs enlightening, our eyes that need to be opened, our perspective that needs to be changed so that we see the loveliness inherent to the earth. Such an opening of our eyes would make us recoil in horror at what we have done, undertake to repair the damage, and refuse further despoliation.'  then even walmart is full of people entirely loveable because they are creatures whose creator loves them.  there one is greeted by a joyous one-armed 'retired' fisherman who could never have been happier with a great catch of salmon as he is with each person who comes into his gates.
the trip back was perhaps even more wondrous.  i stopped at morse creek, whose banks still seem to echo the baptist's cry, and a water ouzel performed her miracles just three feet from my rock perch.  then, headed out of the canyon, there was, in the yard of an abandoned house, a paradise tree:  a tree i had never seen before, hung with gold delicious apples, the fruit of the misty isle.  i brought some home as proof that the kingdom of heaven is, indeed, at hand.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

to everything there is a season

i keep finding myself spouting off on facebook about keeping the season of advent during the great american anti-christ spending orgy.  i do this in compassion, i hope, and love for the people who are posessed by the spirit of this sinful age.  but i am very serious about it.  we are trading joy for baubles.  as the prophet of the advent season, isaiah, asks us in one of the readings for the feast of st. andrew, 'wherefore do ye spend money for that which is not bread? and your labour for that which satisfieth not? hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your soul delight itself in fatness. incline your ear, and come unto me: hear, and your soul shall live; and I will make an everlasting covenant with you, even the sure mercies of david.'

i was reminded again last night of the desperation with which greed and consumption fight against the gifts of darkness as i walked around the little suburban neighborhood in which i live.  houses were garnished with hundreds of watts worth of garish lights; giant inflatable santa clauses and snowmen rose and sank in ther yards, some with recorded 'music.'

but above the din of what thomas merton calls 'the contemporary psychosis,' the silent stars go by.  i would suggest that the treasures of darknes are still waiting to be given to us, if we but still ourselves.  the message of the angels of the holy ones are hovering over the fields if we but quieten ourselves.  and so, i suggest a very simple practice for this season in which we await the coming of the light of the world in the gathering gloom of winter:  each night, go outside and look up into the skies.  see orion and the seven stars.  watch the moon as she rules the night.  then come back inside, and sit quietly in the dark except for one candle.  (if you want to add on each week of advent, that's allright, but this is not an advert for making advent wreaths.)  listen to your breath, and the wind that is the breath moving across the face of the deep of winter.  remember that to everything there is a time, and a purpose for everything under heaven, even the cold and dark of winter.  see if the leanness of the season is not fatness for your soul.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

deep calleth unto deep

i am on a field trip, peregrinating to the mainland to visit new babies and new wives and new boyfriends and new dogs, as well as old friends, and relatives.  it is a mixed blessing.  i am very happy to see the people, and i look forward to meeting the dog, but i'm also an old curmudgeon, set in my ways, accustomed to the habits of my little camper.  although i have lived there less than two months, it already seems 'home', and i am particularly happy at how close it is to creeks where i can sit and listen to the noise of the waves and billows as the water goes over the rocks.  i've already become accustomed to look out my window and see either a fir trunk or a thicket; now i'm looking out a window to see a row of commercial buildings opposite the coffee shop where i'm sitting.

so i was delighted when my niece asked me to show her and her new husband (my nephew-in-law?--whatever, he's a dear boy) the waterfalls on whatcom creek.  i so easily forget the wonders that are right around me as i wax nostalagic for the wonders that i left behind me.  all over again i fell in love with bellingham and the creek that is why it's here.  but more importantly it reminded me of something i think henry thoreau said:  'what is heaven but the outside of the earth everywhere?'  of as jesus i'm sure said, 'the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'  it is easy for me to think of being other places, when where i am is full of angels.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

kevin and the otter

s. kevin of glendalough is probably most famous for letting a blackbird which began to build her nest in his hand, outstretched in prayer, finish the nest and lay her eggs, hatch them and raise her chicks.  but there are other stories about kevin and animals as well.  one about him and an otter seems particularly helpful to me in my new home by the ocean and the many little creeks and river that join her.

kevin was known for meditating while standing  in the water.  i'm not quite so studly as he, so i tend to sit just at the edge of the water.  one of his favourite books was a collection of writings of holy men.  i have a few of those myself.  one day he dropped his book in the water.  an otter is said to have recovered it for him, and when he opened it, he found that not one word was blurred.

often this story is read (or dismissed) as a pious legend.  either one thinks it true and wondrous, or impossible and credulous.  but i believe there is another way to read the story, one which gives us deeper insight perhaps into the relationship kevin enjoyed with the rest of the animated world.  it is a way that reminds me also of a story about s. anthony of the desert.  most of the desert monks had scrolls of holy writings, which they kept on the shelves of their windows.  a visitor to anthony noticed no scrolls, and asked the old man where his scrolls were.  anthony replied that to the one who has eyes to see, all creation is a holy scroll.

perhaps what kevin found in the gift of the otter was not literally the book he had dropped, but the spirit of the holy, in the sense that the letter kills and the spirit gives life.  it encourages me to spend more time listening to the water and her creatures and less time looking at books.

Friday, October 21, 2011

another view of celtic spirituality: a mist-filled path

i didn't mean to dismiss all of the celtic revival folks with my last post; after all, i am trying to be one of them, only to recognize that what we so easily call 'celtic spirituality' is much more complex and unknown and in some ways probably repulsive to us than we often recognize.

so, to refresh my memory with some of the ideas and imagery that made 'celtic spirituality' so attractive to me many years ago, i am also re-reading frank maceowen's the mist-filled path.  it is probably more useful to me and others who today would seek to recover the sort of connexion to the world(s) that marked what we call 'celtic spirituality' than monastic rules.  like myself, maceowen is a southern boy who grew up in the 'bible belt' but who also had the good fortune to have a father whose  'religion' happened mostly in the woods.  and, of course, here in the northwest, mists are almost unavoidable.

one of the things that separates maceowen's method from that of the monks who, at least according to the rules collected by o maidan, filled their days with constant repetition of psalms, is the quiet.  maceowen reminds us of the importance, in j. philip newell's words, listening for the heartbeat of god. 

the quiet is a gift of the long dark hours of winter, and of the mists.  pray that i will have the grace to listen during these long beautiful hours of samhain.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

back online: celtic monasticism

it's a bit odd, perhaps, after thinking eureka springs would be the place of my resurrection, that i have moved back  to the pacific northwest, to the olympic peninsula.  why should i do such a thing?  partly because i'm a wimp:  the winters have been too cold and the summers too hot the past two years in arkansas for me to wander in the wilds.  partly because i was too comfortable:  my little apartment there was so comfortable, with running hot and cold water, heating and airconditioning, and 3,000 books, that i had little incentive to wander in the wilds.  partly because i missed the ocean:  as beautiful as the ozarks are, there are no waves crashing on the rocks.

and so here i am, in a climate that is wet and cool, but seldom extreme, hauling water, with less than a dozen books--a cheat, because i have the internet--a short walk from the straight of juan de fuca.

i am living, at least for a while, in a camper under a big fir tree.  there are all sorts of fruit trees nearby, and berries.  it is a beautiful walk of about two miles to the nearest source of oats and tea and peanut butter.  it seems a start with possibilities.  but i have been reading uinseann o maidin's the celtic monk, and it makes me wonder whether there's any relationship much between my life and celtic monasticism at all.

in a very basic sense, my maternal grandmother lived a live of celtic monasticism.  she wa humble, hospitable, ate little, prayed many psalms each day, never spoke ill of anyone.   and she did such things with much more stability than i have, never living more than twenty miles from her place of birth.

at the same time, the lives described by the celtic monastic rules is much more harsh than anything i live, and more harsh than that of my grandmother, at least after the depression.  and it is a far cry from the cozy celtic christianity that is so glibly described in a huge popular genre of books and videos.  and, i have no community of support.  i have a community that supports me, but that's just because i'm a quaint old man, a sort of semi-ornamental yard gnome.  but no one participates in any sort of similar practices to mine. 

so, it makes me wonder why i feel the need, why so many of us feel the need, to somehow connect what we're doing with what ss. kevin and aidan and kenny and cuthbert and chad did.  is it because the spirit of the current age is so omnipresent that we need support in opposing it?  do we doubt the feelings within our heart that tell us that real life experiences the beginning of the rain at 3:00 a.m., and the calling of the tits and buntings in the apple tree's by julie's kitchen window? 

so, although i am not at all sure that what i'm doing is related to celtic monasticism at all, i am enjoying it.  the air today is full of the ocean, and it's that wonderful temperature--47 degrees f-- when one can't wear the wrong clothing, unless one is afraid of a bit of dampness.  so i'm going to the beach to pretend at least that i'm a descendent in a way of cuthbert, hoping to see an otter who might be a descendent of one of his friends

Sunday, September 4, 2011

passionate wandering

several years ago, i read a book by elizabeth margaret rees, , celtic saints:  passionate wanderers.  it describes, rather obviously, the wanderings of celtic saints, mostly towards the end of the first millenium a. d.  i have re-read it several times, or at least fondled it, looking at the paths and traces of those who went out looking to see what the holy one had done.  and i have done a little  moderate wandering myself.

but i had convinced myself that i had settled into my little glass observatory, much like merlin, looking out on the great void in the land of lime stone and loblolly pine that is the ozarks.  my plumbline had indeed fallen in a fortunate place.

ah, it was not so.  i find myself wandering again, as passionately as ever, as overwhelmed by the beauty of what the holy one has done as ever, and more appalled by how we have treated that good creation than ever.  i am not nor have i ever been a calvinist, but it is easy for me to find in my trip so far evidence not only for original sin but for total depravity.  faith is the evidence of things unseen, and the goodness of human beings requires a lot of faith.  of course there are individual exceptions, but the effect of the whole is pretty horrible to behold.

and so i wander, squinting to see the eighth day of creation through the weekend of football and markets of tie-dyed tee shirts and organic trinkets.  and, if i am quiet, it is there.  the kingdom of heaven is at hand.  i feel like emily in our town, wishing we could all see the streams of glory.

the wandering through the passions is easy.  pray it will bring me closer to saintliness.  it's a long and straight road.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand

john wesley used to say that one should preach until one heard himself. i'm trying to listen to what i'm saying. so, after the last post, on the temptations of s. dominic, i have sold my book cases, taken several piles of books hither and yon, and a bag of stuff to the animal shelter thrift store, in memory of my little grey squirrel, who seems to have died from the heat.
and i am off to the wilds again. well, soon, at the first of september. there are still many books and a few other things to disperse. and, somewhat surprisingly, i am off to the coast. i really miss the ocean, the tides, the smells. perhaps i can find some sea otters who will befriend me. i have stayed here in the hills far longer than the two weeks i had expected. with occasional interruptions, it's been more than six years now. every other time i have started to leave, i have been constrained. but now it seems freeing. i'm sure i don't know what's in store next. i am packing light. pray that i am ready.
perhaps i will really build a coracle.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

the temptations of s. dominic

i well remember when i first began to discover the differences between the franciscans and the dominicans. i was in a sort of 'franciscan period,' all excited about lady poverty and giving away my stuff. there was even a day when i had a sort of epiphany, or an e-pie-phany, if such a horrible pun may be excused. i was living in bellingham, had about $3.00, and wanted a piece of berry pie. (one can tell this was a while ago, when a piece of pie cost still less than $3.00.) to reach the pie store, however, i would need to walk past a group of panhandlers, who would all ask me for money, and i felt honour-bound to give it to them. but a voice from heaven, as it were, proclaimed that the holy one loved even me, and that i might from time to time have a piece of blackberry pie, too. and so i did. st. francis would have kicked me out of the hut for days.

francis of course was also noticeably anti-bookish; no psalters allowed for his little brothers. (obviously the franciscans did not continue that tradition.) even then i had a psalter. indeed, i had three books. then i read a bit about s. dominic, and found that he not only allowed the brothers of his order to have books, but encouraged them to stay up late at night and read. so my franciscan poverty became a dominican poverty. in rich fat america, it's easy to find books for free, of for less than a piece of pie. there were always several free boxes in bellingham. now that i live in the ozarks, there's the hillspeak pass along program, with about 30,000 free books.
so, about 2,000 books later, i find that i am so deep in the poverty of s. dominic that it's hard to see over it. it's a very enjoyable sort of poverty, but it really seems more to be an indulgence in temptation than poverty.

now if of course know that these books aren't 'mine' and i share them, and give them away, and pass them along. but i am no longer free. now, i must provide shelter for hundreds and hundreds of books that i think of as relics, not only in the sense that they contain the thoughts of many wonderful men and women who put their hearts and minds into the words saved on all these printed pages, but also because they almost all of them have belonged to and been read by people before me. one can feel the thoughts and prayers of those who have read them before. they are an important part of my connection to the communion of saints.

and yet. and yet i know that mies van der rohe was right: less is more. st. francis was right: we don't live in houses. st. dominic's poverty is good for some, but for me it mostly a temptation for more pie, and the excuse to indulge in eating. the good news is always the same. repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. perhaps never has it been said better than by the indigo girls:

Thursday, July 21, 2011

give me that old time religion

so, i left my boat on the seashore, and entered the woods to learn what the wind words were saying.  what i learned that is most important, in my humble experience, is that we don't need a new monasticism.  if it's monasticism, it ain't new.  if it's new, it ain't monasticism.  i have many friends who are fond of reading alisdair macintyre and saying that we need a new s. benedict, and who then do some sort of neo-monastic 'practice' in the midst of--or more often at the ends of--their day jobs.  that ain't monasticism.  monasticism is being single-eyed.  it is seeking the holy one before all else.

i met the dean of a prominent seminary recently who, noticing my black clothes and weird hair, said politely, 'what do you do?'  i said, 'i attempt to be an orthodox monk.'  he said, understandably, 'how is that?  either you're a monk or you're not, right?'  i said 'ah, if only it were so easy:  i have taken vows and accepted the blessing of my archbishop for such an undertaking, but sometimes--often--i break my vows and fail to live up to that blessing.  so, my life is an attempt at monkhood.' 

but mostly it has been a fortunate attempt, in that i no longer am trying to serve two masters, being in this  Aión by day and in the AiónAiónios by morning and evening.  (and i use the greek word that we so often translate as 'world' and 'even and ever' because i think those are misleading translations, leading among other mistakes, to the contempt of the κόσμος.

and it has been entirely a work of grace that has led me to realize the futility of life in this Aión, grace that came from praying the psalter.  these words of the holy one, which i repeat day after day, slowly become my own words, and i am caught.  like jeremiah i am seduced.  like peter i have no one else to whom to go.

what the psalms say, ah, is many things.  but for the children playing i the school yard of this generation, they seem to be saying that it is death to be relevant to a 'culture' which spends most of its time and money producing death;  that it is insane to worship youth, that most fleeting of conditions;  that the goal we should have is not to be relevant to the 'culture' of this age but to be relevant to the kingdom of god.

entire the old monasticism, the old religion.  our time is, despite what it's cleverest marketers tell us, is not unique.  it is once again--still--like the age of noah--except perhaps there is less marriage and giving in marriage, with facebook relationships taking over that custom.  it is like the time that s. anthony went into the wilderness, to wrestle with his daemons.  he did nothing to be relevant to his time.  rather he fled the petty smallness of his time to live in eternity.  it is like the time s. seraphim went into the woods to pray, standing and kneeling on a rock praying to the mother of god until he was filled with the glory of the same holy one who had filled her womb.

and so, despite the popularity of the monasticism-one-follows-with-twitter, or spiritual practices on cd's to listen to while commuting, or the guidance of those who talk on television about the wonders of 'interspirituality,' which seems to be the spiritual equivalence of having no city in which to dwell, but living in a 757's 'interurbanity,' go to your room and pray.  go to your room and pray.

'seek him that made pleiades and orion, that turneth deep darkness into the morning, and darkeneth the day into night; that calleth for the waters of the sea, and poureth them out upon the face of the earth:  the lord is his name.'  (amos 5:8)  and pray, brothers and sisters, for me, a sinful man seeking to be a monk.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

where i'm coming from, part 4: into the diseart

so, i got to the river and the river was dry.  actually, i got first to eureka springs, because i forgot whether i wanted highway 23 or 21.  i really wanted 21, but i started walking up 23.  eureka springs, 27 miles, the sign said; why not, the pilgrim-in-no-hurry said.  so, after a cooling swim in war eagle creek, i walked and was given rides to eureka springs.  it was a friday, and i was fasting, and everyone offered me food.  it was delightful.  in the parking lot of the one grocery store in town, i met--of course, it's a small world--an episcopal priest i had known in santa fe, who was now in eureka springs.  so i had a roof over my head for that first night in the ozarks, and the assurance that the buffalo river, which i had thought to paddle in my little red boat, was quite too low for such an adventure.  but said priest would like to buy my boat.  so, lighter in pack and heavy with cash, i made a bag of cinnamon-raisin bread and a jar of peanut butter into a bag of sandwiches, and started for the river.  i would hike.  the cash proved to be a good addition, helping me to avoid another roof over my head, this time a jail roof.  i stopped on the edge of berryville to adjust my pack and a woman in the house across the street, whose children had spoken to me, called the police.  policeman says, 'you know the laws about hitch-hiking, don't you?'  'no, says i, nor am i hitch-hiking.  just walking.'  'identify yourself,' says policeman. when i pull out the cards the policeman thinks know who i am better than i do, the law sees the authority:  i have money; i must be telling the truth.  so i wander on to ponca, stopping for a cigarette at every creek for a while, and then i stop just for big creeks, so i won't become a  chain smoker, and for a bag of blue corn chips with sesame seeds that i always buy on arrival in ponca.

then i walk under the bridge that crosses the nearly-dry buffalo and about 150 yards down the trail i find it:  the dessert.  i pompously call it s. chad's diseart.  i make it my place of retreat.  a little creek, nearly entirely dry, drops about 90 feet into the river below.  across the river there is a large bluff just upstream, and a sloping mountain directly across where, i will discover next morning, elk come down to drink and sing matins. (actually, elk don't sing matins:  they play in on a theremin.)  there i stay, mostly sitting on the world's most beautiful cube of limestone, until the sandwiches run out.  there i read, from the northumbrian community's celtic daily prayer these words:
'and this was brendan's mountain prayer:
shall i abandon the comforts and benefits of my home,
seeking the island of promise our fathers knew long ago,
sail on the face of the deep where no riches or fame
or weapons protect you, and nobody honours your name?
shall i take leave of my friends
and my beautiful native land,
tears in my eyes
as my knees mark my final prayer in the sand?
king of mysteries, will you set watch over me?
christ of the mysteries, can i trust you on the sea?''

i, however, read these words a bit backwards.  i had found i could trust the christ of the mysteries on the sea, and i had adopted the pacific northwest as my born-again native land.  could i trust the christ of the mysteries on the land?

i ate all the sandwiches.  i went to fayetteville to buy a ticket back to the sea.  my body would not go to the bus station.  i decided i would stay amongst the limestone a while longer.  i started back towards eureka springs, where i had stashed my bag.  now i was a hitch-hiker.  i knew it was only illegal in town.  a woman going the other way on a four-lane highway with a median saw me and turned around.  she opened the door and said, 'when god speaks, it's best to listen.' i'm not making this up.

i did go back to the northwest for several visits, but i had found the place of my resurrection.  i knew where i was.  i was in the dessert, or diseart as the celts wrote it.  s. chad's diseart.  but it took me a while to figure out what i was.  at first i called myself, because i lived first in a little tent and then in a slightly-less-little hut on the edge of the property of my episcopal priest friend, a semi-ornamental--stretching belief a bit--semi-hermit.  but solitary monk seems a better description.  i don't avoid visitors.  sometimes i visit.  i go to the library, and sit in public parks.  it all seemed very neo-monastic.  i was part of the new monasticism.  i called my youtube channel urbanmonk13.  i had a lot to learn.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

where i'm coming from, part 3: on the face of the waters

'and the spirit of god moved upon the face of the waters.' (genesis 1:2)

my sojourn in the house of my ancestors was coming to an end.  mother was sick enough to be attended by real nurses, and i was packing up for a little trip back to santa fe to re-vision the next part of my life as a missionary abbot/bishop when on the very day of my departure, a letter came from a  friend from my previous new mexico days.  come, it said, to seattle.  there are mountains and the ocean both here.  there's a job if you want it.  and so i went through santa fe and then headed the little huyndai that had replaced the van--better for carrying little old lady to the doctor's office--northwest. i had not  been in that part of the country since 1969,
when i had been a history student at simon fraser university in vancouver, b.c.  i arrived in bremerton, a ferry-ride from seattle, just in time for a big earthquake.  when one feels the ground move under one's feet, one should pay attention.  a new heaven and a new earth may be shortly on their way.  but i took the job, and ordered a real skin-on-frame kayak from germany.  the boat arrived the very day i qualified for insurance and endentured servitude for life at the job, and for my friend to collect the head-hunter's fee for me.  it gave the terms of enslavement back to gentle employers as soon as my friend had deposited his check, and headed north, to anacortes, to put s. brendan the kayak together, christen him with guiness, and set forth on the face of the water.  it was to be more than a six hour cruise. 

for three summers, brendan carried me on the face of the waters.  we traveled down to the south end of the hood canal, to olympia, to neah bay, to vancouver island.  and the spirit was still moving on the face of the waters, creating a new me.  during the winter months, when there's hardly enough light to travel by kayak, i lived in a little hut i made from found objects on land belonging to western washington university.  at the end of three years, i came ashore, more or less, and rented a tiny space in a historic building in downtown bellingham, which i called beatus:  an urban poustinia.  i had become more or less an accidental hermit.

and, i also became sort of an accidental college minister.  the people who came to the poustinia were almost all of them students from western washington university.  what i had thought i would do in a grandious way in fayetteville, i came to do in a much more humble way in bellingham.  i didn't even tell people that i was a priest, certainly not a bishop.  offering the world to the holy one, guarding the faith, are much more than wearing honorary clothes, and there hadn't been much room for copes and mitres in brendan.

also in bellingham, i fell in with young and wonderful people who were trying to live in community.  they had rented a funky old house, and i moved into a tent in the yard.  again, life was good.  but despite the great desire everyone has to live in community these days, most of us have never seen it, so we come and we go.  (did i mention that i wrote my final paper for systematic theology based on the sacred text of paul simon's graceland?  so,
as everyone else came and went, making families and going to graduate school, i went to the ozarks for a little retreat.  once again, a boat was involved, a czech inflatable.  i thought i would wander down the buffalo river and, as luci shaw translated the words of john on patmos, to the wind words.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

where i'm coming from, part 2: the hidden years

so, there i was, living a quiet life in santa fe.  i started a small congregation of the church of antioch, the church of holy wisdom.  we rented a beautifully perfect cubic room next door to a buddhist restaurant.  after mass we had coffee hour with the buddhists, who made very good scones.  we began to gather beautiful church swag:  hand-woven dossal cloths for all of the season of the year; our altar was made of a creamy golden local sandstone.  we used a simplified version of the liturgy of ss. addai and mari, and the new common lectionary, reading our lessons from the jerusalem bible with illustrations by salvador dali.  many of the communicants of holy wisdom had been raised roman catholic, estranged by papal politics, but there were also several sons and daughters of new age celebrities, it being santa fe.  on thursday nights we had a study group, discussing such topics as the celtic understanding of the gospel according to s. john.  on the great feast days of the church, we celebrated outside, sometimes in a rose garden, sometimes along the santa fe river, sometimes renting the courtyard of the unitarian church.  it was a good life.

but i felt that i was very much an import to santa fe who drank too much water.  if everyone who had moved there since world war ii would leave, there might be enough water.  so i decided to set an example.  when i would mention that i was thinking of moving, people would ask, ' from santa fe?  why ever would one leave santa fe?  where could you go?'  when i said, 'fayetteville, arkansas.,' as often as not they said, 'oh.  i want to go there, too.'  so in creswell, oregon, on the of the feast of the holy trinity in the year of our lord 1995, i was made a missionary abbot/bishop for the wilds of the ozarks.  i loaded up the van--yup, there was even a van--and headed east.

fayetteville was in the midst of a heat wave, but i set right to work, finding it not that unlike santa fe in culture and zeitgheist.  i found a house to rent, and began talks with another 'campus ministry' about renting their chapel on sunday evenings.  but before all of this began, i thought i should visit my mother on the other side of the state, in jonesboro.  the picture above is her house.  when i arrived, i found her health much much worse than i had known, and knew i needed to stay.  thus began one of the strangest, most unexpected, although also richest, periods of my life.

mother had no 'medical' illness:  she was just tired of living, and had begun to starve herself.  again and again the following scenario was repeated:  she would call me to her room and say, 'now, honey, i don't want you to worry, but i have [fill in some fatal disease].  i don't want to be treated, and i'm not afraid to die, but i just thought you should know.'  i would ask her why she was so sure about her self-diagnosis, and she would describe some symptom she shared with someone she knew who had died from that disease, usually something such as they both had grey hair, or both disliked avacados, something completely unrelated to the disease.  she had been a nurse for many years, so she had known a lot of diseases, and unrelated symptoms.  after a while, as she ate less and less, she would feel less and less well, and decide to go to a doctor for his diagnosis.  she had good insurance, so there were always a lot of redundant and often unpleasant, tests.  the doctor would say that she should eat.  she would decide she would, that there was no reason to die just yet, and she would gain back a little strength and dismiss me--for a few days or weeks.  i would head off with my kayak and cell 'phone, to explore a bit of the white river, usually, until the call came that i should go back

this pattern repeated itself for six years.  finally the toll of  repeated starvation had become debilitating enough that mother decided she should move to a nursing home.  it was the same one in which she had worked, and was for her a very good move.  she had friends there her own age, and she often thought she was still working there.  (there were occasional crises when she would want to run the charts, but the current staff were very considerate.)

now i had never told mother just why i was in arkansas.  she never much of a listener, anyway.  from time to time she would say to me that she regretted that i had never become a 'preacher,' and since she found 'my religion' to be something entirely different from the southern baptist sect of my upbringing, she was probably right that i hadn't.

for me these years were transformative.  the difference between living in the glamorous city of santa fe and the suburban blandness of jonesboro could hardly be greater.  the jobs i took in santa fe brought me in contact with artists and celebrities, and the people with whom i had coffee talked about 'spiritual' stuff.  the jobs i took in jonesboro brought me into contact with high school graduates and veterans, and the people with whom i had coffee talked about new pickup trucks.  and i learned a lot about my mother's childhood which had greatly influenced my childhood without ever knowing it.  and, without knowing it, i was becoming a hermit, of sorts.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

where i'm coming from, part 1: the order of st. chad

i am working on an essay that helps me seriously to think about monasticism and it's place in our world.   to do that, i think i should review my own back ground of 'monastic experience,' both for me and for reference for any readers the essay might have.  so, i'm starting with my first effort, the order of st. chad.  this is the rule of the order of st. chad presented to the most rev. richard gundrey, bishop of new mexico, arizona, and nevada, catholic and apostolic church of antioch, by father dale caldwell in santa fe, new mexico, on the feast of st. chad, 2 march 1991.  i didn't know much at all about any antecedents of what i was trying, but soon there were six others who joined the order, and we were, and some of us still are, important supports for one another in our pilgrimages.


the purpose of the order of st.chad is to encourage people living in the world who seek to recover an awareness of the holy in the world and in their lives and who recognize the hollowness of the industrial growth culture, by providing access to the traditional vows of religious life and the offices of daily prayer, emphasizing the world as the holy work of a loving creator, and themselves as beloved and holy creatures within that creation.


chad, bishop of litchfield (+672) was trained in the celtic tradition.  his life is described in book iv, chapter 3 of bede's history of the english church and people.  although appointed by king oswy as bishop of  york, chad's ordination was not accepted by theodore, the new archbishop of canterbury.  chad humbly stepped down.  impressed by such humility, theodore re-ordained chad and appointed him bishopof mercia and lindisfarne  (chad established the see at litchfield).

true to the celtic tradition, chad traveled throughout his diocese on foot.  his awe of nature and his intimate understanding of  natural events and the activities of the holy one were remarkable even for his time.

more modern guides for the order of st. chad include wendell berry, thich nhat hanh, and delores lachapelle.


postulants and walkers of the order of st. chad follow the example of chad by living humbly, recognizing their proper place in creation and by observing a simple office of daily prayer, observing the work of the creator through the cycles of time.  they are encouraged to walk whenever possible, coming to know more intimately the creation of which we are a part.  in doing these things we strive to follow the traditional religious vows of poverty, stability, and obedience:

poverty:  no one can serve two masters; yet despite the example and admonitions of her lord and the nearly unanimous agreement of masters of all traditions, the church has seldom encouraged true poverty.  poverty--living simply so that others (and oneself) may simply live, is the first vow of the order of st. chad.  it is a recognition that abundance of life is given to all creatures and does not follow from grasping for eve more posessions.

there is no imposed standard of poverty within the order.  rather, poverty is a goal towards which one is constantly encouraged.  a postulant is not expected to give belongings or anything else to the order.  the order, in fact, has no property.  rather one is encouraged to share with the poor, and to seek less and less the things which do not lead to live as one comes to experience more and more the fulness of creation.

stability:  in many monastic orders, stability implies that one will remain at a particular monastery for life.  for postulants and walkers in the order of st. chad, stability implies a growing recognition that we are all dependent upon the gifts of the one creator, co-inhabitants of one earth.  justice demands that we rely upon the gifts of our particular location and not covet the gifts of our neighbors.  but grace allows an ever deepenig understanding of the extent to which the holy one does fill our needs wherever we find ourselves.

obedience:  obedience can mean doing what one is told, as by a 'superior,' but it can also mean attending to what is being told.  it is this second meaning to which postulants and walkers  of the order of st. chad vox.  in the daily office, prayer which not only connects us with the transcendent, but which even more importantly grounds us each day, we seek to hear what the creator and our brothers and sisters throughout creation are saying to us.

most importantly and simply, the order of st. chad is instituted toencourage us to 'walk in love, as christ loved us, and gave himself for us, an offering and sacrifice to god.'

Thursday, July 7, 2011

7 july: s. maelruan

according to a note in the margin of the martyrology of tallaght (or tamlacha, the monastery founded by s. maelruan, whose ruins, left by the viking invaders and the passing of 13 centuries, are pictured to the right),
'on the nones of july the birds cease
to sing the music of holidays
for maelfuan from tallaght.'

i have noticed many fewer birds singing these past two mornings; now i know why.
there are many wonderful tales preserved and retold about this 8th century irish monk, one of the most influential members and leaders of the culdees (celi di).  i almost joined up with a contemporary namesake of mael ruan in the celtic orthodox church, but found it a bit too strict.  maelruan--the original--allowed his monks only vegetables and water.  the vegetarianism i've practiced for many years, but i've already had my coffee this morning.  of course, if coffee had been known in the green isles at that time, it might have been adopted as an aid to wakefulness, as the buddhist monks use tea.

but it is maelruan's connexions with s. michael the archangel which i find particularly fascinating.  there are relics of s. michael in tallaght.  you might well wonder how relics of an archangel are possible.  but maelruan decided he would not take land in tallaght for his monastery until his friend the archangel also took it.  s. michael obliged by sending an clod and an epistle from heaven to the site of the foundation.

mael ruan lightened slightly some of the practices of his contemporary monks, such as s. oengus, who used to chant the psalms each day, 50 in the river with a withe round his neck and tied to a tree, 50 under the tree, and 50 in his cell.  mael ruan distributed them over a week, and when oengus, disguised as a slave, sought membership in his community, put him in charge of the corn kiln.  but maelruan found particular strength in psalm 118 (119), and repeated it frequently.  that is the psalm particular to the jewish feast of tabernacles, the feast of the harvest, and the old testament feast closest in time to that of s. michael.  so i am delighted to find in the practices of the celtic church that we see at tallacht a continuity with the eastern and egyptian church, and with the prophetic practices of the temple.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

6 july: the feast of s. isaiah, the prophet

so, i opened the jerusalem bible, my favourite modern translation, to a random page in the book of isaiah:

'woe to the legislators of infamous laws,
to those who issue tyrannical decrees,
who refuse justice to the unfortunate
and cheat the poor among my people of their rights,
who make widows their prey
and rob the orphan.
what will they do on the day of punishment,
when, from far off, destruction comes?
to whom will you leave your riches?
nothing for it but to crouch with the captives
and to fall with the slain.'  (chapter 10, verses 1-4a)

Friday, July 1, 2011

the new world

'for anyone who is in christ, there is a new creation; the old creation has gone, and now the new one is here.'  s. paul's second letter to the church in corinth, chapter 5, verse 17.  (jerusalem bible)

'there is no sound tree that produces rotten fruit, nor again a rotten tree that produces sound fruit.  for every tree can be told by its own fruit:  people do not pick figs from thorns, nor gather grapes from brambles.'   jesus, as recorded in the gospel according to st. luke, chapter 6, verses 43-44.  (jerusalem bible)

i watched terrence malick's hauntingly beautiful movie the new world last night.   then i walked, in the cool of the evening, the same time of day that the book of genesis says YHWH walked with adam, the earthling, and eve, the mother of all, in the garden.  it was a very dangerous combination.  it made me think.

malick's movies are always thought-provoking for me, and i highly recommend them.  if you still think of world war two as 'the good war,' watch the thin red line..  as an alternative to the hundreds of 'western movies' that are the mythology of american, i suggest days of heaven.  as the oldest of three sons of the fifties, i look forward to seeing the tree of life,.  so, as an anglo-phile, who will post 'god save the queen' on his facebook for the fourth of july, the new world was a harsh reminder of nothing i didn't already know, but more or less must choose to forget in order not to life in a state of constant rebellion.  of course today's political equivalent of redcoats wear pixelated camouflage rather than the colours of the king.

ah, but the cool of the evening.  the cool of the evening was filled with the droidalbeasts that still require humans for brains but may soon not even need us for that, but to whom we sacrifice everything, even the cool of the evening.  how gladly we pass our children through the fires of moloch to have a new cadillac.  do ford still make mercuries?  if they do, they should build a mercury moloch.  and one of the most amazing things about the shiny transformers that have replaced the animals--for a long time there was here in eureka springs the road kill cafe--is that many of them bore on their flanks little signs claiming jesus as lord. 

and the same people who are driven by the beast are often the ones who want to put up the ten commandments in public places--something i would not oppose, by the way--to remind us, among other things, not to take the name of the lord in vain.

now i realize not all of  modern, protestant-capitalist-industrialism--and i don't think one would survive without the other, which is probably an important clue why 'communist'-industrialism seems to do poorly--i realize this amalgum that lets me spout on the internet, is not all bad.  malick does too.  mozart piano music plays an important role in the new world, and there's even a good englishman, john rolfe, played by christian bale.


i look around me at what we have done, not just to 'the new world' of america but to the whole of the holy one's creation, and i shudder.  the problem is not new.  the story of pandora's box tells us the greeks knew the problem of original sin.  george pal warned me when i was a junior in high school with a now mostly forgotten flick, atlantis, the lost continent..  but the problem does not get better, it gets worse.  we began to chop down the trees around the fort at jamestown so we could see our 'enemies' approaching, and we didn't stop.

how then are we to live?

insomuch as it is possible to me, i life in peace with all men.  i rejoice in the good news that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, a sort of parallel universe.  as john smith said in the movie, 'i know the world is more than that fort [which was jamestown].'  but i shudder.

you see, even though i am surrounded by savage calvinists who seem to think that we are predestined not to walk in love but to drive in lincoln mkx's, i have read more than the a snatch of romans and augustine and john calvin.  more importantly, i have looked around at the fruit.  i know that the sacred springs that make my little adopted city so wonderful are full of the poisons of modernity.  oil spills continuously, not just last summer in the gulf of mexico.

and i know that the same paul whose writings are abused to allow us to rend asunder what the holy one has joined together, penned these words:

'all the truth about us will be brought out in the law court of christ, and each of us will get what he deserves for the things he did in the body, good or bad.'  s. paul's second letter to the church at corinth, chapter 5, verse10.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

the tide in the affairs of men: midsummer, beginning to breathe in

"stay in your cell, and it will teach you everything."  i am of course aware of these famous words of a desert abba, but i don't always follow them.  i blame it (it's always convenient to have something to blame) on my welsh ancestry.  nearly all of the welsh saints i find so fascinating were wanders.  today, for instance, is the commemoration of s. mewan, who wandered first over the bristol channel into cornwall and then over the english channel into brittany.
  so most summers i wander off to the northwest corner of washington state, where there's a great inland sea and even a real ocean.  i do it because i like to visit the people there, but also because i spent three of the most important summers of my life there, paddling around the whulji in a skin-on-frame kayak named for s. brendan the navigator.

it was wandering around on the face of the deep that i learned about tides.  any fool can learn about tides in a kayak, and if he pays any attention at all, he learns to use them rather than to fight them.  i am happy to say that i learned mostly to paddle with them, although occasionally i would have a larger-than-necessary adventure on purpose by going against or across the tides, and once i had a very strenuous adventure indeed because i accepted an invitation to a leisurely lunch with a friend who, although observant for the most part, is a land-lubber who ignored my protests that i needed to make the tide.  the incoming tides on a full moon in the straight of juan de fuca are not to be ignored.  fortunately i found a place to camp after two miles of fighting, and started again the next day towards neah bay with more favourable seas.

this summer, however, started with a trip to austin, texas, a place about a different as possible from the san juan islands.  i went to visit some friends at the seminary of the southwest, and it was very good to see them.  then i stayed with their cat while they wandered off, and i read a lot of wonderful books from the library there, and met some great trees and creeks, and found a few good coffee spots, one of them next to a creek where a night heron was kind enough to share vespers with me several evenings.  i also found out how much of a country mouse i have become.  but there were two half-price books stores in austin, and i made an embarassing number of purchases.  one of them was the rhythm of the christian year by emil bock, an important leader of the the christian community renewal movement.  it was an unexpected gift.

bock's book is a collection of "festival meditations" he wrote over the years, which are reflect an profound understanding of the cosmic implications of the incarnation of christ, an event which includes the redemption of all of nature.  he describes the period from the nativity of jesus to the nativity of john the forerunner as the time the earth breathes out, and the period from midsummer to christmas as the time the earth breathes in.  and he says that this pattern is repeated in our own lives, if we but notice it.  the first part of our lives, we breathe out, we expand our motion and our knowledge, our spirits are at high tide, embracing the shores of the world.  but in the second part of our live, we breathe in.  our spirits are incarnate in our own bodies.  we become one within ourselves.

i recognize that the pattern bock describes, i am feeling and desiring.  i no longer need to travel to the ocean to know the tides.  the water of the ocean is my own blood, the tides are always moving:  we need only to be aware of them.  i remember very vividly the afternoon, in june, 2000, paddling across the largest part of puget sound, just north of the kitsap peninsula, a part of the sound for which  i have never found a name, when i realized this.  a friend sent me a letter today in which he mentioned bjork's song "oceana", which ends with the wonderful line, "your sweat is salty, i am why."

so i rejoice to sit at my cell this s. john's even, watching the waves break on the bark of the pine trees, while the ravens swim in the currents of the earth's spirit, and breathe in, absorbing, hopefully, some of the gifts of the first half of the year and of my life.

but i know myself well enough that i would not be surprised if i were at the whulji again this fall.  and for those of you who do not know the word "whulji," don't be surprised.  not even google knows it.  it's coast salish for "this sea that we know."

Monday, May 16, 2011

s. brendan the monk

few saints have been so influential on my life as has brendan.  as jennifer kennedy dean writes, "as we conform our lives to our stories, we find we are transformed."

it was, not surprisingly, the story of brendan the courageous navigator that caught my attention first.  i had been taking some "time off" from my "job" as a missionary bishop to the wilds of fayetteville, arkansas, to take care of my ailing mother, and when she became well enough for me to leave again, i thought a kayak trip would be just the thing.  so, i bought a beautiful red saxon boat, broke a bottle of guiness on the bow and called her "brendan."  off i paddled, on what would be a life-changing trip.  along the way, i became an accidental hermit. my little r&r trip stretched over three years, paddling more than 9,000 miles, and completely enjoying being bounced about on the sea, protected by the prayers of s. brendan--and of course also of s. nicholas.

in the years since i came to shore, i often feel nostalgia for that time, for the nights when the sea receives the red sun to the chant of ravens at vespers, for the mornings veiled in the cloud brooding on the face of the waters as another day is created.  evenings and mornings are certainly beautiful where i live now, in a small apartment in the ozarks, but it's easy to feel that my life is not very courageous.

it is that context that two bits of wisdom from the church have helped me this s. brendan's day.  the first is a word from abba isaac of the desert--i fondly call my little apartment s. chad's disseart  "the person who recognizes and overcomes his passions is greater than the person who raises the dead."  certainly recognizing and overcoming my passions takes more courage than floating on the surface of the sea.

the second is the ikos for the feast at matins:
"putting forth from the coasts of thy homeland, o holy one, thou didst set sail in a boat of skins, traversing the tumultuous waters of the sea, guided by the providence of the almighty.  yet in vain didst thou search the watery realm for theisle of the blessed, for their abode is not within the confines of this world.  wherefore, thou didst return to dry land, to the monasteries thou hast founded; and losing the life of thy body, thou didst find the realm of bliss which thou hadst sought.  o venerable father brendan, divinely wise and most holy, entreat christ god that our souls be saved."


Tuesday, April 19, 2011

my lenten koan: what did you get in your lenten basket?

i grew up in the southern baptist south.   we called the sunday before easter palm sunday, but we had no idea why, really.  the sermon was likely to be from the book of kings.  our pastor had a fixation on jezebel.  on easter we all wore new clothes, and there was usually a "contata," although not always.  it was easier to get enough voices for the real holiday, christmas.  we didn't celebrate it, but all of the theology of redemption we had was centered around good friday, so easter was left to the super market and department stores.  we got easter baskets.

when i began to enter the "big church," at all saints' episcopal in memphis, the membership entertained a wonderful mix of theologies:  some were catholic and prayed through the church year with great devotion.  some were evangelicans who thought the church year a bit too pappish.  some thought easter baskets were the work of the devil.  some "gave up" something for lent.

as i have come to appreciate the breadth of traditional christianity, i have come to look at lent not as a time of giving up anything, but as a period of particular grace.  we let go of some things so our hands and hearts will have more room to hold more.  fasting, alsm, and prayers are gifts given to us so we may more closely participate in the life of our lord.

many of the desert saints wove baskets as they prayed.  it kept their bodies occupied so the would not be distracted, and they sold them to support themselves.  so i have come to think of lent as the time of baskets, more than easter.  and i encourage you to join me in thinking of what has been given us in our lenten baskets this year.

my koan of this year has been how to understand the land in which i live as holy ground.  this was an amazingly koan in that every day in the office or the liturgy there were comments on it.  this morning, for instance, from the reading for the epistle:

"who is among you tht feareth the LORD, that obeyeth the voice of his servant, that walketh in darkness and hath no light?  let him trust in the name of the LORD, and stay upon his god."  (isaiah 50)

somewhat to my surprise, the biggest gift in my lenten basket has been obedience.  walking requires listening.  this does not seem a popular virtue these days.  the american episcopal church has excised from psalm 95 the verses which seem to me to distill my "solution" to my lenten koan:

"today if ye will hear his voice, harden not your hearts
as in the provocation, and as in the day of temptation in the wilderness;
when your fathers tempted me,
proved me, and saw my works.
forty years long was i grieved with this generation, and said,
it is a people that do err in their hearts, for they have not known my ways:
unto whom i sware in my wrath,
that they should not enter into my rest."

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

the lenten koan: moses and the burning bush

there is not shortage of material to help me with my lenten koan of coming to know this land, the land which i find myself "given", as holy land.

not that there aren't plenty of distractions. i easily find distrations. so i read s. basil, who encourages me to simple clothes, and s. david, who encourages me to simpler simpler, and they help me to see that much of what i might think of as my struggle is itself a distraction. "my struggle;" mein kampf: i should think more of how destructive "my struggle is." but when i see it as just a little part of the struggle of the saints, the part i have been given like the little "parts" we hard to read in sunday school as children at walnut street baptist church, then it seems both doable and nothing special.

but most often the struggle for me is a struggle for family as much as place. my lenten koan: to walk on and know the holy ground. in my readings this morning moses encountered the holy one in the burning bush, who introduced himself as "the LORD, the god of your fathers, the god of abraham and of isaac and of jacob. this is my name for ever, and this shall be my memorial unto all generations." the place is holy because the holy one is in it, as jacob had found at beth el. but the line of generations has been broken, it seems, for me and for many of my contemporaries, and so i seek, prior to the god of my fathers, my fathers. moses had no vision of the holy one so long as he felt at home--settled--among the egyptians. so i sit here in the spring sunshine on the edge of this ozarks holler reading robert van de weyer's celtic fire: the passionate religious vision of ancient britain and ireland (new york: doubleday, 1990), looking for my forefathers in wales. but i cheat. i am expecting in the mail a book by donald nicholl on the russian religious visin, triumphs of the spirit in russia. i find my fathers, it seems, on the edges, on the fringes, on the outskirts, never in rome or constantinople.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

the temptation of wheels

the day after i was given my lenten koan, this bicycle was pointed out to me as being for sale at the local bike shop. i had admired it last summer, but hadn't seen it out front and had assumed it had been purchased while i was wandering around the northwest and southwest and texas and such.

but no. it's there, and a very real temptation? so, i'm wondering just how literally to take all the admonitions to "walk." is this little wheeled wonder "just a little one" as was the city to which lot retired after the destruction of sodom? it seems probably a small decision. but life is made up of the results of all our small decisions, far more than of the big decisions. pray for me, my friends.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

jeremiah, john donne, and my lenten koan

be careful what you ask for. never send to know for whom the bell tolls: it tolls for thee.

when i started lent with the koan of how i might find the place where i live to be holy ground, i had no idea how much help i would have. and again and again the help says the same thing: "be obedient."

now obedience is one of my vows: poverty, stability, chastity, obedience. poverty, at least by american standards, is pretty easy on social security. i find i have enough money to be mildly generous. stability is also pretty easy, because of my poverty. sometimes i think i would like to move back to the ocean, but i don't think i can afford it. and i find that my lot has fallen in a goodly place. chastity was actually not one of my vows at first, but i have come to understand how important it is, and don't find it so much trouble. but obedience: that's the hard one.

i like to blame my objections to obedience to the general american rebelliousness that started when the trouble-making bostonians dumped tea in the boston harbor and blamed it on the indians. but it is really of course mostly my own pride.

one of the things the rule of st. chad emphasises is obedience as listening. but listen to what? it is so easy to listen to entertainments. even as i type this i am listening to psalm 72 on youtube. and if i listen to the readings of lent (psalm 72 was this morning's prime reading), i am caught short again and again. walking, one can hear. the epistle for the second sunday of lent says, "we beseech you, and exhort you by the lord jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please god, so you abound more and more." it is easy to think of walking as a way of hearing bird-song, and so it is. but is also a way to hear the motorcyclist's motor-screaming as they try desperately to find happiness.

this past sunday, the third in lent, came the epistle that is the motto of the order of st. chad: "walk in love, as christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to god for a sweetsmelling savour." again, walking is more than only enjoyable. (the old testamnt reading that sunday is deuteronomy 6: it's hard to find a stronger encouragement to listen and obey than that.

and now this morning, jeremiah: ". . . if ye throughly amend you ways and your doings; if ye oppress not the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow, and shed not innocent blood in this place, neither walk after other gods to your hurt; then i will cause you to swell in this place, in the land that i gave to your fathers, for ever and ever, saith the lord almight."

so: i must listen much more carefully, not just to the wonders of creation but to all the parts of it which, as the anglican collect for ash wednesday reminds us, god does not hate, but which i all so easily "tune out."