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.