31 March 2013

Lent: Christ & My New Monasticism

In May 1995 I attended a Benedictine Experience in New Harmony, IN. hosted by The Friends of St. Benedict. Fr. Benedict Reid, OSB, a recently retired abbot of St. Gregory’s Abbey, Three Rivers, MI. led our week of living according to St. Benedict’s Rule. I was enmeshed in crisis searching to structure day-to-day life. Regularly praying and leading Morning Prayer was one lifeline to an anchor that worked. One year later I completed Education for Ministry (EFM). And so I began to implement life changes that mirrored what Father Benedict wrote 6 year later.
“How can we simplify the life of the parish so that people of many backgrounds do not stumble over one another’s culture? Can many small groups in the parish be allowed to explore various kinds of spirituality —classical Western, Eastern, AA, holistic health, journaling, meditation, exercise and diet, biblical, sacramental, environmental well-being, justice for the poor, inner-transformation programs, healing of memories, world peace, and many more? If a particular way of spirituality promotes health and growth, then even if not named directly, Christ and the Spirit must surely be there. Bringing all of this spirituality to the Eucharist could make it a celebration and a feast of extraordinary richness.”[1]
My relationship with prayer, scripture, worship & sacraments is active. I attend worship service in my spiritual home and contribute to maintain my holy place. There I am fed and I glean spiritual insight of God in the world. I observe and respect traditional catholic sacraments. I believe in so doing I’m blessed and place my little ego in proper perspective. I don’t feel badly if I skip.  I’m working to break out my religious & spiritual practices beyond bricks & mortar into my daily living. Father Benedict Reid’s spiritual practice list liberates.
Monks live inside a monastery, a campus-dei behind definitive boundaries and apart from everyday distractions. Living is ordered in a balanced way to reflect God in the monk, their cloistered community and the world. Monks are called to God. Monks must pay attention; monks are supported to pay attention to God. I like the Benedictine Way. I read The Rule of St. Benedict and Always We Begin Again: The Benedictine Way of Living, a contemporary restatement of Benedict’s Rule for a start. The Benedictine monastic practice is a balance of prayer, worship and sacrament, study and reflection, and labor.
St. Benedict says to labor with your body is to pray. Now I earn income with my body push-mowing lawns. I help some, who have a poverty of resources, as I am able. I pray anyplace that suits. The Book of Common Prayer is my go-to source for narrative Christian prayer. I use my handheld to go to it or to read Morning or Evening Prayer. I read religious literature & reflect upon it most often with Old & New Testaments. I don’t limit myself to those words of God. I sit in silence in a Centering Prayer group. I practice Taoist Tai Chi and so doing I pray in silence and movement and gentle strength with my body. Usually I pray at night with a thanksgiving and a hope ending with my lay-me-down to sleep. I choose to pay attention beyond the bricks & mortar. Choosing to practice is a part of The New Monasticism.
“The New Monasticism seeks to marry contemplation with action, often in response to the needs of the poor and the marginalized in urban locations. It seeks community among like-minded people who want to live out a radical expression of Christianity in a “post-Christian” world–a life that cuts to the bone of the Gospel. It denies cheap grace. It seeks forms of worship that emphasize inclusion, participation, lack of hierarchy, contemplative practices, the unleashing of voices. Its followers formulate and write personal Rules of Life (Franciscan) to guide them in personal spiritual practice that foster the delicate balance between contemplation and action.”[2]
The New Monasticism living model fosters observant completive religious & spiritual life without walls. New Monastic acts are concrete steps one can choose, take, eat, make, do and re-make. The New Monasticism is not limited to one religion, one denominational practice or one single spiritual practice. This living model weaves a personal relationship with God through prayer, scripture, worship, sacraments, learning, reflection, music, and work into my order of living. I believe it offers a living reformation and an alternative practice to contemporary consumer/secular market culture. The new monastic model gently transforms me. I tell my wife I’d like to form a foot-washing ministry.
Jesus Christ is my lord and savior. I’m a sinner, no question. I’ve often failed to do what I ought to have done. I’ve often done what I ought not to have done. All that I was, all that I am, and all that I will be is the life I have in, by, and through Christ and God’s church. And I believe spiritual and religious walls are coming down. Christ and the Spirit are surely there too.

[1] www.stpaulcathedral.org/files/SSPsummer2001.pdf: DOM Benedict Reid, OSB, first Abbott of St. Gregory’s Abbey of Three Rivers, Michigan, now retired, writes in the 2001, PRINTER, the newsletter of The Society of St. Paul: A Monastic Order of the Episcopal Church

21 March 2013

Lent: Purpose

“Give a man a mission and get out of his way.”
I like it. It makes simple sense; though maybe original intent is for a young man. Even so, I sense the purpose. I can use my words to name a particular mission. It’s my mission. But in real life, like Jonah, I’m argumentative and ungrateful and I’m a poor example of a prophet.
Really? You’re talkin’ ‘bout someone else. Are ya’ sure? I really don’t wanna go to Nineveh…Jonah whines.  I’m in the dark inside a monster fish. I’m afraid of the chaos I’ve come from and I will see. My response calls for courage . . . my weakness and the journey requires emotional surrender to accepting I alone cannot manage the chaos. I must go to the deep dream inside me. In the real world there’d be a high failure rate. Where on the dry land will the monster vomit me out?
It was my purpose to be a parent and Father. I, the young man I was, knew it. It was my purpose to support my children with the beloved I chose, with the beloved who chose me. That is what I worked for. As a young man I was unconscious of it; now mature I know it; I’ve lived it. Yes, I was in love, I was married, I moved to a new place, to the place of her people, an unknown place. It was my unconscious sense I was alone as if no loved ones cared for me; I did not trust. Now I’m the father of two well adjusted grown children, with God’s help.
Today I do not know. And God in me, calling me, the mission that bubbles up in me, is risky. I know the risks; my world now is not secure. I’ve experienced human reactions to me. I’ve experienced human reactions to my God sense calling me. My marketable skills are legion in an economy driven by rare skills. You wanna do what? Really? And Jonah in me is disappointed and arguing, and being mulish.
You’re talkin’ ‘bout someone else. I really don’t wanna go to . . . you fill in your whatever.
I want journeymen with me this time. In the Jonah myth, the tale is told as if only Jonah and God are in communion acting among His wayward chosen. I see Jonah’s behavior and relationship with his Higher Power. Jonah chooses to be alone. Jonah flees. Jonah tells accusing shipmates, throw me overboard. Jonah finds himself inside a fearsome monster fish: chaos. Jonah prays and gives thanks and God redeems His prophet. The monster vomits Jonah out in Nineveh. Jonah prophesies in Nineveh with a vengeance. God does repent and God does redeem even whiners like Jonah.
What is my journey? I will not run from my purpose. I will not say to my shipmates, “Throw me overboard.” I will not act as if I’m alone, as Jonah seems to have done. I will not act alone though; it’s more difficult, more complex, and lonelier. Who wants to be in the belly of a sea monster? Christ does not call us to act alone. Christ calls us to act with two or three. Christ teaches to act in love, not vengeance, with other seekers. Who will be with me on our journey?

14 March 2013

Lent: Poor, Sick, Suffering

I’m called to be good enough. One cannot be poor or sick and not suffer. One suffers with old age, impoverishment or disease. One doesn’t suffer from them. I believe the poor suffer with the lack of resources. I believe the sick suffer with a particular genome and the poverty of wellness knowledge and the poverty and absence of loving caregivers, and a hopelessness that saps the human desire for change. I believe hopelessness is the most creepy and corrosive of human emotions. Those human beings who are impoverished and sick live with suffering.

To suffer is to be with one’s natural condition, rational outcome, logical conclusion, inevitable result, or one’s fate, destiny, or karma. By definition to suffer is to endure pain, distress, loss, injury, harm, or punishment. To suffer is to be broken and to endure and to carry. To suffer is to endure evil or death. The image by Eva Rubinstein[1] of a Kentucky woman named Mathilda seems to capture what suffering might look like; pain and power and sadness and fear, maybe Mathildas fear of hopelessness. As a boy I recall being with my Grandma Savage and visiting Grandma’s family in the home for the aged. Our Aunt Caroline looked very much like Mathilda. Maybe its our fear of hopelessness.

Micah 6:6-8 RSV says,
6 “With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? 7 Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?” 8 He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
I believe the prophet Micah loathed injustice. He looked around and saw what was broken. He tried to fix it. He called others to try to do the same. He gave us words to remember his call. What does the Lord require of you? Do justice. Love Kindness. Walk humbly with your Higher Power. The Spirit does not require human success or human perfection. God does not require human wealth or human health. The Lord invites me to try, and try, and then to try again, like He did. That is my relationship with the poor, the sick, and suffering. I hope that is good enough for now, just for today.

11 March 2013

Lent: Race

My birth family was Anglo-Scotch-Irish; no whiff of “color” in our gene pool. My Connecticut Yankee mother taught me to be respectful and polite to everyone. Her racism was of the kind that, were I to express what I’d heard at home, she’d rebuke me. I can’t recall my parents doubting their cultural, educational and racial standing; social standing was another matter and a post for another time.
Around 13 or 14 years old I considered it my duty to welcome any person of any other race or color to America. I must have sensed I was some kind of ambassador when I went to the 1964 New York World’s Fair. I look back on it and I think, “Oh God, please, no, not again.” What a kind little ambassador boy I was welcoming native exhibitors from foreign nations.
In my mid 20’s I began associating New Testament Bible passages with my real life experience. One favorite was, and still is, 2 Corinthians 18-21,
18 All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; 19 that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 20 So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We beseech you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21 For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (RSV)
and it was attached to a particular epiphany. I read this passage years ago as a lector at The Catholic Center at NYU I was struck that I was an ambassador. Christ’s appeal for reconciliation was not only in the Word but also through me as I was reading the Word to those hearing the Word. I was a vessel by which Word was made flesh. The brief moment was powerful in me and for me. It was my calling. I could not have said how I would do it. I just knew it. I have tried to work that ambassadorial calling.
I see now I perceived the role. I felt the role was the message. And at that time in my life, literally on my own in a way I’d never imagined or been prepared for, I was just beginning to mold who I was. I was seeking my role. The message is for reconciliation with the Higher Power. We are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. I saw the role. I did not see the message. The message is reconciliation, to find a means to renew and turn back to relationship with your Higher Power. I did not hear the meaning of the Word in the ambassador’s portfolio. I may have just done the best I knew how to do.
As for race the only natives in America are Native American Indians. Everyone else is from somewhere else. My gene pool family’s cultural, educational and racial history hasn’t done to well by the Natives over my personal racial birth family’s 364-year North American stewardship. For our shortcomings, my Heavenly Father, on behalf of our family, please accept my sorrow and heartfelt apologies for what we have done and what we have not done. We may have just done the best we knew how to do.