Wednesday, March 31, 2010

St. Bernard on the Love of God

This morning I woke up and in preparing for the day, I listened to a YouTube recording of Thomas Merton talking to the novices about Bernard's De Deligendo Deo. He was relating that to St. Bernard, the monastery was simply a School of Love, which reminded me of the prologue of the Rule of St. Benedict where he stated that his intention was "to establish a school for the Lord's service." As I accept that God is love, this is an easy transition for me from Benedict to Bernard (as I assume it should be). The English version of the text carries the title On the Love of God.

Having spoken to the nuns a day or two before, this was reinforced by that conversation when the nuns referenced the Course in Miracles' affirmation that our human purpose is to listen with our hearts and respond in love. While some may take issue with the Course, it nevertheless summarizes the monastic impulse or at least the version of it that has moved me over the years.

Not being able to exempt myself from the larger cultural experience of alienation, I find that the search for meaning and significance in life is completely dependent upon grace, i.e., namely the graces received in the knowledge and love of God. Like any American, I can easily translate meaningfulness with work or some activity, while the only real significance in life is the realization of the presence of God.

While the nuns and I are not living in a monastic community, the community nature of our spiritual friendship allows for the mutual compassionate acknowledgement that we are here to love God and one another.

A video of the Dali Lama was on this morning, calling all of us as global brothers and sister to the experience of global compassion. A call to the commitment of love and non-violence. Between the nuns, St. Benedict, St. Bernard, the Dali Lama and myself, the old addage that when the student is ready, the teacher appears seems to hold true. As we prepare to celebrate Easter, I believe that love and compassion are the true power that produced the Resurrection.

Bernard said "the reason for loving God is God himself, and the measure, is to love without measure." Such is the love that is celebrated on Good Friday!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Feast of St. Joseph

St. Joseph is the patron saint of social justice, workers and a happy death (and a list of others). While St. Joseph is described as a just man in scripture, I think his life embodied my favorite quote from Albert Einstein, "Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile."

As we witness the inequalities within our now global society, the situation is in need of prayer! St. Joseph as father and protector of the Holy Family lived a quiet life of devotion and he earned his living as a carpenter. His patronage of workers is easy to understand in this regard as well. The overlap between the workers and working for social justice has been realized by many religious communities and most prominently perhaps by those in the Catholic Worker.

Coming from the Benedictine tradition, the notion of work takes on spiritual connotations for me. This is the notion of how "what we do" contributes to "who we are".

And when all is said and done, I pray to St. Joseph for a happy death!


O BLESSED JOSEPH, who yielded up thy last breath in the arms
of Jesus and Mary, obtain for me this grace, O holy Joseph,
that I may breathe forth my soul in praise, saying in spirit,
if I am unable to do so in words:

"Jesus, Mary and Joseph, I give Thee my heart and my soul."

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The School of the Holy Ghost

"The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it." -Flannery O'Connor

I am in my second reading of Paul Elie's The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. Beyond the title, which fascinates me on many levels, Mr. Elie has put together both biographical sketches and summaries of work for four American, Catholic writers. He said that collectively, Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy were known as "The School of the Holy Ghost." Having had a lifelong admiration of both Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton, Mr. Elie introduced me to both Flannery O'Connor and Walker Percy. Each of the four embark on very individual path's in life with the apparent hand of God in the background. For the realization of God's amazing grace operationalized in an individual, Mr. Elie gives four terrific examples.

Individual lives are like tapestries that reveal the interplay of form and grace. Life Tapestry is the title of my imagined autobiographical work as a personal spiritual journal of self-understanding. A representation of an individual path to the realization of the presence of God. For many years people have exclaimed, "you should write a book!" With very little notion of how one actually attempts such an endeavor, I thought I might start a blog such as this to at least begin writing and recording stories as I remember them or if they serve some purpose to me at the moment of writing them down.

The title of Life Tapestry is an amalgamation of the various influences at play in the story of my life as experienced from the level of consciousness that I now find myself to live through (and/or have lived through). Consciousness or awareness has a movement to it. Sometimes there is great clarity and piercing vision and other times simply a rememberance of peak religious experiences. Some of my life circumstances that exert their influences upon me are the "shadowy figures that still swing between the trees in the back of my mind". They come through the various themes listed below:

1) My monastic interests and spirituality;
2) My family and friends;
3) My work experiences;
4) My educational experiences;
5) My deep appreciation for the journey as Life reveals it.

One of my favorite movies is Lion in Winter with Peter O'Toole and Katherine Hepburn. Katherine Hepburn plays Queen Eleanor. In a rather despondent moment, she feels exasperated and laments to herself "What a life's work!?" Because of the notion that tapestries are beautifully created artistic pieces produced through the active labor of one or many artisans, I thought this was a great metaphor for my story-telling adventure. The non-similarity, if one exists, is that I may have thought I was following a design or blueprint for the tapestry, when in reality it was grace that produced what what is stretched out today. Because the work is in progress, the awe and mystery of its appearance is as valuable to me as to any other. I have no idea what the final tapestry will look like, or even if it will be completed or abandoned in media res.

I once thought I would call my autobiography The Beloved Gyrovague or The Beloved Vagabond due to my constant shifting both within the church and monastic life and that out again (questing for solid ground or a sure foundation). In my moments of critical self-reflection, the title might change to The Beloved Sarabite. The broad based appeal of any of these titles would be lacking accept among Benedictines as they are terms out of Chapter One of the Rule of Saint Benedict. In any case, neither gyrovagues or sarabites were up to Benedict's standards and I generally fear the worse in any claim I have to Benedictine heritage despite my thirty year attraction.

The use of the word tapestry also picks up the feminine influences on my life and the profound appreciation I have for womens' ways of knowing and relating. The medieval notion of women sitting around (nuns or nobility) and creating tapestries is appealing to me. How their individual reflections and meditations might have been shared in conversations or in collective silences at the loom. Even in an American context I think about the Shakers and Quakers around the quilting frame. I enjoy the company of women but most especially the stories told on these occasions. Stories that have a heart view or an enclosed or protected wisdom, a truth derived from some critical reflection upon life's experiences.

I'm fairly convinced that grace plays a hand in any means we can stomach in our living with the truth. Insights sometimes gently nudge us into flight. "The soul takes flight to a world that is invisible; but there arriving, she is sure of bliss and forever dwells in paradise." -Plato

Like the books of the writers from The School of the Holy Ghost, the tapestry or quilt survives the artisan. What story does it tell?

Monday, March 1, 2010

Resort Vacation with Lifetime Friends

When I was 13, I met two amazing women who would become lifetime friends of mine. They played such a formative role in my adolescence and early adult development and continue to be a source of inspiration and guidance for me as an adult. I generally refer to them as "The Nuns." They were in fact both in the Sisters of the Holy Cross from Notre Dame, Indiana, and had even taught in my home town of Michigan City, Indiana.

We have spent countless vacations together including my many trips home from college and seminary. One of our favorite vacations together was spent at the Bluegreen Resorts property, Orlando Sunshine Resort, in Orlando, Florida. Most folks who go to Orlando are all about the parks and the various forms of family entertainment that are the special attractions of the area. I, myself, have been to all the parks and some of the other minor attractions on separate occassions.

If you have read my earlier post, my experience of a vacation doesn't just consist in what is seen or done while on vacation. The general experience of the vacation is what matters and it helps to use one's liesure time in a way that balances our your health and state of mind. In the midsts of Orlando's hustle and bustle, the three of us managed to create such a unique vacation experience that some people might believe we were not in Orlando at all.

The vacation started off on a very good basis with a warm welcome received by the Front Desk personnel at Orlando Sunshine and my friends were amazed by the room accommodations as they had never stayed at a resort property before. We had a very large and beautifully decorated two bedroom, two bathroom unit with a balcony. Unlike the typical hotel room and much less like convent or retreat house accommodations, the unit has everything you need to feel right at home and comfortable. This is a great benefit of resort accommodations. We made full use of it as we stayed in the unit for a good portion our stay, reading, playing games and talking about life's deeper matters. Hey, on vacation, you actually have time to discuss what is most important in life!

We managed to take some unique excursions in Orlando and found that there was an excellent Italian restaurant in Celebration where we went more than once and enjoyed walking about the lake and the general small town feel of the environment. We also took a boat excursion on this large lake at sunset.  Our guide was terrific and we saw all kinds of native Florida wildlife and some non-native wildlife that was running free as well. We ended up at Universal on one occassion as we were given special discounted tickets from Bluegreen. While on this trip, Terese developed her mild addiction to Starbuck's bottled coffees.

On vacation with good friends, there can be such euphoria that one regrets to leave. We needed to return to our respective homes and leave the temporary home residence created by Bluegreen. We have fond memories of this vacation and a general feeling of gratitude to the resort personnel at Orlando Sunshine for making our stay so valuable.

March is Red Cross Month

I am so fortunate to coordinate my company's involvement with the American Red Cross. Bluegreen's philanthropic efforts have long had a channel of distribution directed towards the American Red Cross and the various relief efforts. The mutual admiration between our two organizations is palpable upon every occasion that we interact.

In recognition of March as Red Cross month, Bluegreen sponsors a special training program in its corporate office for First Aid and CPR training. Given our commitment to associate Wellness and our care and concern for our customers and associates, this is a perfect fit to recognize our reliance upon one another.

For its efforts, Bluegreen has been recognized by the American Red Cross with the Circle of Humanitarians Award and is a member of both the Henry Dunant Society and the Clara Barton Society of the Red Cross.

In light of this weekend's disaster in Chile, again we see our reliance upon the work of the Red Cross to respond to such human tragedies.