Friday, May 22, 2015

“Omnia uno tempore agenda.” Julius Ceasar (Everything had to be done at once)


Well, now I am into it.

Rather: We are into it. The roller coaster of change is galumphing along some pretty dicey tracks, too, if you ask me. But this perception is very likely a projection of my own anxiety, as I am learning in my devotional reading.

Books have always been my friends, and during our Provincial Chapter meeting last week Chapter members were strongly encouraged to read two books. The first is William Bridges “Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.” So I downloaded the third edition to my Kindle and have been plowing through all the business jargon. Talk of managers, employees, products and competition is a bit dull for me, but it requires no big effort to see how patently necessary it is that we brothers read this book.

Bridges validates the confusion and chaotic feelings, the creative and sometimes desolating in-between times and offers good pointers about the new beginnings. I thought of this book tonight during Evening Prayer when the psalmist in Psalm 107 says “They cried to you in their trouble…” and later: “and you brought them to the harbor they were bound for.” A warm glow spread through my chest when I prayed this. It doesn’t say exactly which harbor—but they survived to sing about it.

During Chapter we were given several voyages to speculate about. Two brothers said their farewells to the Society; where will I be in three or four years’ time? Prospective homes for the friars were suggested: “Trust me,” the Bishop said. Some brothers have found places to live singly for the time being: there’s a choice to wonder about. And we heard about some men who are determined to come aboard and voyage with us, testing their vocations to this life: it makes the heart glad.

Bridges is generous in his book, giving readers different ways to get his message. I especially love the literary bon mots that pepper the text because they are at least from people I have heard of (i.e. not CEO’s of strange-sounding corporations). And these quotes express some of the contradictory feelings I have and which Bridges thus validates by including the statements in his book. This from Ogden Nash: “What I’d like is some nice dull monotony, if anyone’s gotony.” Amen. S.A. Tartakover, a Russian chess master speaking of the chess board at the beginning of a game: “The mistakes are all there waiting to be made.” But I suppose Anne Morrow Lindbergh lays down the law, so to speak, of managing transitions: “only in growth, reform and change, paradoxically enough, is true security to be found.”

We’ve got our Strategic Plan; we have all signed on to it and taken on what we must. So now the proof of the pudding will be in the tasting of it. We have to dig into this transition to discover another home in this world which is passing away.

We were treated to another book called “When the Past is Present” by David Richo, who gave us a day-long workshop on Letting Go (let the reader understand). Rarely have I read a book written just for me! I’ve already read it twice and am now marking my copy up, thirsty for its wisdom. It speaks to me of the need to be clear about who I am reacting/responding to—present reality or somebody/place from my past? The core discipline is practicing mindfulness, naming what I’m feeling, allowing all the feelings to be my teachers and letting them go. In all of this awareness one is strengthening their spiritual awareness of the beauty of the transitory nature of life.

Br. Jude, our Minister Provincial referenced the analyst Jung in his address to chapter: God is what comes across our path, causing confusion. So definitely this time is about God, defying expectations. It is a challenge and invitation to be open to all the things I’ve talked about so glibly before: prayer, patience, and mindfulness to name three! I feel invited to wrestle with the things I carry over from my past: family and childhood experiences. As David Richo says, “to wrestle respectfully as Jacob did with the angel, until it yields its blessing. The blessing is the revelation of what we missed or lost and the grace to grieve it rather than transfer it.” Transference is natural, everybody does it, and it can wreak havoc when it is freighted with pain and negativity.

God’s grace is always apt and abundant. Scripture should always be meaningful, but sometimes my attention wanders. Yet tonight I was touched. When I am feeling tender the Spirit is there helping me. In the Gospel lesson for Evening Prayer the Spirit said to the Church in Jesus’ defense to Martha of Mary’s engaged listening: “She has chosen the better part.” Amen. God give me ears to hear you!

Pray for us!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Good-bye Little Portion



This week I left Little Portion Friary (pictured both in this post and as the new header for this blog). The brothers voted in September last year to sell the friary, and when word got out that it was for sale, Fr. Frank Pizzarelli of Hope House Ministries offered to buy it. It will be home to perhaps two dozen young men in recovery for addiction to alcohol and drugs. This wonderful ministry got its start in the guest house of Little Portion Friary 35 years ago. The brothers are retaining the graveyard, the county is negotiating for the forest, and Hope House will take over the buildings and use the property immediately around the friary. Fr. Frank has said he intends to keep the labyrinth open to the public, the outdoor chapel will remain, and the young men will be trained to bake bread so that the long tradition of fresh home made bread will be maintained. It is the happiest possible outcome short of an influx of 10 or 15 young men wanting to be friars...

I built this labyrinth in 1998, though it could have been a year earlier: memory fails me for precise details. We initially developed a practice of holding labyrinth walks on the night of the monthly full moons. A potluck meal started the evening, then the brief talk and orientation, people walked (or didn't, as they preferred) then a meditative Taize-style prayer service concluded the evening. We had some truly marvelous evenings. I remember the first time we were very concerned if there would be enough food, and indeed, the only thing people brought were cookies. We were pretty strung out on sugar. But after that, the beauty and diversity of foods was fabulous.

Over the years I have given innumerable talks about the labyrinth as a way to prepare people for walking it. Thinking about the labyrinth helps me to reconcile with the upheaval in my life right now. The first part of the walk, the walk into the center is an invitation to be present to what one is feeling. Good, or bad, it is good to allow the feelings to surface, acknowledge them--perhaps standing still and letting others walk past--before continuing on. I always found tripping along the outer edge the most desolating, memories of feeling far from the center or purpose of my life coming up for me. But turning in I'd remember happier times: the whole emotional gamut was often present for me. As I turned the corners of the labyrinth, I believe the turning would in someway stimulate my brain much in the way the brain is stimulated by EMDR. Deeper insights often came from walking the twisting path--walking itself is another way to stimulate the brain: left, right, left, right.

Finally I arrive in the center, the "liturgical" place for transformation, enlightenment, transfiguration. I say liturgical in quotes because the simile is inexact, but gets the point across I think. During Communion in the Holy Eucharist is the liturgical moment for connection with God, transformation, forgiveness, enlightenment, but often I don't feel any of those things. But once in a while I do. Whether I feel them or not I know at the heart and center of my life as a whole these things will take place. I believe everybody has such a moment in their life--but they are rarely engineered successfully. The moment arrives stealthily, like a thief in the night Jesus says.

Then comes the walk out, the "so what" walk. "What difference did this walk make in my life" That might be asking a lot of a labyrinth walk, especially if it is dark and disorienting, the food was gone or you feel sand bagged by too much information from without or within. But taking 20 minutes for yourself to be present to your feelings and to be open to a larger connection can perhaps be all that is needed to have enough clarity to relax a little bit. Or to realize you need to apologize to somebody. Or to remember their is more to life than rushing to the next thing. Maybe it is just being outside in the muggy evening, or the mist and rain, the frost glinting in the moonlight that reminds you or your creatureliness.

So I am trudging on my life path, feeling very grateful for the last 25 years at Little Portion, and very sad about leaving; I feel happy and grateful for the future for the place and wondering what is in store for me and my brothers. But the essential sense of connection with God, the awareness of connection with other people and the earth--that place in Mount Sinai as well as so many other places around the globe where I have put down roots--remains with me. To assess the past 25 years, the "So what" I have to acknowledge the huge impact of my brothers on my life, the gift of sobriety which is a big part of my story in building the labyrinth, in using it, and in my ministry and life as a whole.

The labyrinth has been a way to enlarge my sense of life, I have experienced wholeness, healing, freedom in connection with it. So now I take these things, which can never be taken away, and apply them to where I am now. I am not diminished by the loss, I am not homeless either.

The name of this blog is "The World is my Friary" an adaptation of St. Francis' statement that the world is his cloister. Francis was forced to move on from Rivo Torto and lived an itinerant life, often a mendicant one. The dependence on the generosity of others and the abundant grace of God kept Francis growing and deepening. What some thought of setbacks he praised God for poverty, chastity, even hunger and tiredness because in all things he came to know the way of Jesus Christ and the abundance of God love for all creation revealed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

So I need to walk my talk: depend on God, be open to the prompting of the Spirit, seek ever widening circles of freedom, generosity, love and compassion. I often just pray to be kinder and more patient! Where the journey will end, where I will finally unpack my seven boxes of memory drenched trinkets, books and fraying clothes I don't know (they are in storage for now, and I am exulting in the freedom of 4 shirts, one pair of jeans and one pair of shorts!).

I also believe that the Church is facing a paradigm shift, we are seeing he emergence of new forms of worship, new kinds of community life, both religious orders and parish types. Paradigm shifts sound beautiful and easy, and perhaps a bit abstract. But they are painful as hell, and living in between the grinding stones may provide substance for the future, but I wouldn't seek it out. Obviously God is behind it, making all things new, whether we participate reluctantly or enthusiastically. Its my decision if I make myself miserable with all of this or not, and I am choosing the joy. I have so much to be grateful for, so much to look forward to: the world is indeed my friary and my home.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter: Don't Be Afraid!

Homily for Easter 2015
Hermitage of St. Bernardine
Stroud, NSW, Australia
Br. Clark Berge

“Don’t be afraid!” This is the counsel we get in Matthew’s Gospel in the light of the Resurrection. Fear clouds our thinking, diminishes our generosity and inhibits joy. I was set to preach on this after our meeting last week, then doubly so after reading Tim Winton’s speech Bruce forwarded me from the Palm Sunday walk in Perth about the Australian response to immigrants. (http://www.theage.com.au/comment/tim-wintons-palm-sunday-plea-start-the-soulsearching-australia-20150329-1ma5so.html) Fear is all around though we don’t always name it thus. Easter morning is a good time to weigh our fears, and to look at them in the brilliant light of what we believe God is doing in the world.

During this liturgy we are given numerous images of God and we hear stories of how God acts in the world: lovingly and creatively in creation, in the nick of time in the story of Abraham and Isaac, salvifically at the Red Sea, compassionately in the prophecy of Isaiah, and refreshingly with sprinkled clean water in Ezekiel. We believe God acts in loving, timely, saving, compassionate new ways; yes? All of this is released again in a startling way in the story of the Resurrection. Our beliefs about and our images of God control our actions, so we have our charter.

But what can dissuade us? Reluctance to confront others, busy-ness or preoccupation with other matters, sometimes we say we had no idea what was wrong. Offering ignorance as our defence is pretty shaky! But we offer it out of fear of being accused of callousness. I think fear lurks in the depths of all these defences.

Tim Winton spoke powerfully about the corrosive fear that has diminished Australia’s response to immigrants, and he called on his fellow citizens to shake off their fear.

America, to be even-handed, struggles with a fear of difference too: racism is alive and well in my country. Why else are 90% of inmates black? Why else do young black Americans walk in fear through the city streets? Fear twitches the fingers of the trigger happy. Where is the generosity, creativity, loving, saving compassion in deporting children to countries virtually foreign to them?

Bringing it closer to home, do fears make us friars not speak honestly to each other? Does fear make us flip into angry attacks rather than loving, honest exchanges? Why do I get so defensive when I feel criticized—even if nobody has said anything? As Winton describes Christians: we’re “lily livered” followers! When I got sober in 1999 I had to do an inventory of my life, step four of the 12 Steps of Recovery. Not only do you list what you did, but you need to say why you did it. Over and over again, I found myself saying, “I was afraid of what people would think.” “I was afraid he was trying to take something away from me.” “I was afraid I’d be left out.” I was afraid, afraid, and afraid. Just telling people “Stop it!” doesn’t actually change lives. It is a good consciousness raiser. It makes marvellous rhetoric at a public event. But what has helped me most is being loved. When I hear people laugh at my horror stories, and then share their own, I know I am loved and accepted. When I feel ashamed, I am often reminded I may have done something wrong but I am still a beloved friend or brother. As fear has diminished I have grown. Or, another way of saying it, as my self-preoccupation has died, Christ has grown in me. But if I live to be a 110, I may always get a knot in my stomach, may always feel a flash of fear, my old weakness. But by then I will perhaps banish it with the intake of a breath, and “know intuitively how to handle the situation.”

Fear can ruin our personal lives, thwart our highest aspirations as we sometimes seek to dull the effects with alcohol, or sex, or work…you name it. Fear can pervert our community and our countries. A world in the grip of fear can only pay lip service to new life. Fear is perhaps the only thing that could undo Jesus’ ministry and render his death meaningless. Demagogues always build on fear, it is second only to love as a great motivator.

God did what only God could do; he broke down the barrier of death, classically the greatest human fear. The only thing we have left to fear is fear itself, as Franklin Delano Roosevelt famously reminded Americans at his first inauguration. You see we aren’t the first or the only ones to struggle with this.

“Don’t be afraid,” the resurrected Christ implores us. “Don’t be afraid.” Thus even at the grave our victory shout rings out: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.



I preached this at the friary chapel in Stroud: 4:30 a.m. Easter morning! I arrived in Australia on Tuesday night last week from the Solomon Islands; I attended their chapter, then gave a series of three lectures/workshops to 30+ brothers and wanna-be brothers, and finished my visit preaching at St. Francis church in Honiara, preaching to over 500 people. It wasn't all work though. I got in some great work-outs, nice long runs through the jungle on dirt tracks, and march 25 we had a beautiful Eucharist in the morning and then off to the beach for one of the nicest picnics: tinned plums were the highlight until the brothers caught some octopusses (octopi?) which we grilled: very tasty. A wonderful time.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Ecumenical Colloquium of men and women religious “Consecrated Life in Christian Traditions”

CONCLUDING MESSAGE

This message was endorsed by all the participants of the Ecumenical Colloquium


1 - A new experience
For the first time ever the Vatican organized an Ecumenical Symposium on Consecrated Life for more than one hundred men and women religious from various church affiliations – Catholic, Coptic, Orthodox, Anglican, Protestant ... – to get to know each other better and to pray, to share their experiences and to promote Christian unity. This unprecedented meeting, held from 22 to 25 January 2015 during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, was an initiative of the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life, in collaboration with two other Vatican Dicasteries: the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity and the Congregation for the Oriental Churches.

During four intense days, these men and women, all of whom have consecrated their lives to God in the following of Jesus Christ, but with very different forms according to their respective ecclesial traditions, had a powerful experience that filled them with joy. They discovered their deep communion in the same life choices and, at the same time, the enriching variety of its lived reality.

These consecrated men and women are most grateful to the Lord Jesus Christ. They are also grateful to Pope Francis who, by instituting a “Year for Consecrated Life” within the Catholic Church, immediately associated with those who have committed their lives in a similar way in other churches by stating: “I warmly encourage such meetings as a means of increasing mutual understanding, respect and reciprocal cooperation, so that the ecumenism of the consecrated life can prove helpful for the greater journey towards the unity of all the Churches.” (Apostolic Letter to all Consecrated People, 21 November, 2014) .

2 - Multiple discoveries

During this time together the participants received a great deal: an address by the Cardinals who head the three organizing Dicasteries, a presentation of consecrated life in each of the three great traditions and the testimonies of religious brothers and sisters. More than speaking of unity, they experienced authentic unity, by sharing moments of fraternal dialogue and communion with God, in the sharing of experiences and prayer and in communion of prayer, supported by the prayer of numerous contemplative communities.

During these days of meeting and fraternal dialogue, together they discovered:
- what they share in common: a commitment to follow Christ (“sequela Christi”) in ways – whether in community or not – dating back to the early centuries of Christianity, when the Church was still undivided. They recognized the Holy Spirit working in them to increase the gifts of their common baptism. They became more aware of their calling to be “experts in communion”, servants of the reconciliation among all the disciples of Jesus. Consecrated life, at the very heart of the Church, is also at the heart of the Churches’ journey toward unity.

- what distinguishes them: the participants came to better understand, within their own ecclesial tradition, what distinguishes, but does not separate them in any way; for example, in the Eastern tradition the understanding of consecrated life can be understood in various ways.

This experience enhanced two basic truths:

-- That it is when Consecrated persons truly responding to their call as men and women of communion, reconciliation, unity, and mercy as “untiring builders of fraternity” (Pope Francis Message for the opening of the Year for Consecrated Life, 30 November 2014) inspired by the action of the Holy Spirit, that they are servants of communion in their Church and among the Churches. Religious life, yearning for unity with God and with others, particularly when it reconciles diversity and overcomes conflicts, puts into practice the Lord’s prayer “that they all may be one” (Jn 17:21), and thus become a “school of ecumenism.” Holiness – seeking to grow in communion with God and in mutual charity, even unto martyrdom, mixing one’s own blood with that of consecrated persons of the various traditions - is the only way to unity.

-- At the same time, advances in the ecumenical movement have allowed an exchange of gifts between brothers and sisters of the various Churches. This mutual enrichment reflects the experience of many ecumenical communities and interfaith associations of men and women religious.

3 –Renewed perspectives

At the conclusion of this meeting, the participants:

-- hope to see more of this kind of meetings, responding to the call of Pope Francis: “So I trust that, rather than living in some utopia, you will find ways to create “alternate spaces”, where the Gospel approach of self-giving, fraternity, embracing differences, and love of one another can thrive” (Apostolic Letter to all Consecrated People). Such exchange of gifts also requires an adequate formation that needs to be encouraged.

-- returning to their communities and Churches, the participants, greatly enriched thanks to the experience of these days, hope to live their common call to holiness and conversion with their brothers and sisters, which is the only way to unity.

Together they invoke the abundant gift of the Spirit on everyone personally and all together, ever more faithful to God, so that the great desire of Christ for all his disciples and for all humanity be fulfilled as soon as possible “Father, that they may all be one, so that the world may believe!”(Jn 17:21)



Rome, 25 January 2015, on the feast of the Conversion of St. Paul

Monday, February 16, 2015

Ecumenical Ministry



I met the Pope a few weeks ago after giving a speech on the Consecrated Life in the Anglican Tradition. The full text of my speech is posted: www.franciscans.org.uk The whole event was at the invitation of the Institute for the Consecrated Life of the Vatican. We listened to a number of speeches, shared meals and some beautiful prayer: Vespers from the Roman Catholics one night, Orthodox prayers the next night and a beautiful Evensong at the Anglican Church in Rome the last night.

Following my quick handshake with His Holiness I traveled to Assisi, where I have been the Anglican Chaplain at St. Leonard's Church. The Bishop of Assisi allows the Anglicans to use the church. It is full of colorfully painted murals. Unfortunately no heat; that is added incentive to keep my remarks brief!

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Ciao Italia

Snow flurries, quiet medieval streets, bells ringing, muffled pedestrians murmuring “Pace e bene” as they pass: its like falling down a rabbit hole.

I'm not in New York anymore!

I arrived in Assisi Saturday night and was met by the Warden of St. Leonard's Anglican Church where I am to be chaplain for a month. I am living in a warm and charming apartment right in the center of the old city. How great is that?

I'd been in Rome for several days, where I was part of an Ecumenical Symposium on the Consecrated Life, sponsored by the Institute for the Consecrated Life of the Vatican. I gave a paper on Religious Life in the Anglican Tradition and the Ecumenical Journey (their topic). Apart from the Roman Catholic archbishop moderator, who is also a Franciscan, giving me a good natured razz about “How can you be a real Franciscan if you don't obey the Pope?” my talk was well received.

The symposium was interesting, on and off. The Catholics read a lot of papal documents. The Orthodox talked about the Trinity and keeping the Orthodox tradition alive in the face of great adversity. I talked about the Anglican tradition of prayer and worship; the blessing of freedom and minority for Anglican religious in the face of a lack of church laws, and our small size; and the characteristic of Anglican religious to cross boundaries: social, as in opposing apartheid and warring militia, and ecclesiastically by welcoming members from different denominations in some of our Anglican communities.

Most participants wanted to impart as much information as quickly as possible so many of the papers were read rapidly in a monotone.

Jetlag eroded my attention span from time to time (let the reader understand).

But there were sparkles: presentations from the ecumenical communities of Bose and Taize especially. Vespers each night was from a different tradition: Roman Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican in churches of those traditions. They were really beautiful, though standing in the Russian Orthodox church packed in with other people close by I had to edge to the wall to ameliorate claustrophobia.

The Director of The Anglican Centre in Rome, Sir David Moxon, took me, and Sr. Joyce and Br. Desmond Alban, also representing our community at the symposium, to dinner at a little restaurant run by the San 'Egidio community. It is staffed by neighborhood youth who learn how to wait tables and cook so that they can then go out and get jobs. The food was great, the service very friendly and attentive: it was terrific. David told us fascinating stories about his work to end slavery, coordinating the efforts of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Pope and several leading Muslims.

Saturday we walked across St. Peter's Square to meet the Pope, and I got to shake his hand.

Standing in the Square were a group of people with a blue banner emblazoned with “12” and wearing Seattle Seahawks football jerseys. Superbowl hoopla all the way over here. I gave them a wave and we all sang out “Go 'Hawks!”

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Reading List

Everybody is talking about Mark Zuckerberg's reading list. As a life-long bookworm I am at last on the breaking edge of a pop culture trend. Its amazing. If one waits long enough eventually the culture catches up!

So, I thought I'd share a reading list of my own taken from my Kindle. There are ten "serious" books and ten novels. I try to read theology in the day time and novels in the evening. Happy reading!


Books on theology:

Doing Christian Ethics from the Margins, by Miguel A. De La Torre

Immortal Diamond, by Richard Rohr

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown

Practice Resurrection: A Conversation on Growing Up in Christ, by Eugene H. Peterson

The Blue Sapphire of the Mind, by Douglas E. Christie

Tattoos on the Heart, by Gregory Boyle

Revelation, by M. Eugene Boring

I See Satan Fall Like Lightening, by Rene Girard

Dating God: Live and Love in the Way of St. Francis, by Daniel P. Horan

The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of The Lord's Prayer, by John Dominic Crossan



Novels (some older, some new):

Offshore: A Novel, by Penelope Fitzgerald

All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd

Euphoria, by Lily King

The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng

All Our Names, by Dinaw Mengestu

This Is How You Lose her, by Junot Diaz

The Lowland, by Jhumpa Lahiri

The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton

The Circle, by Dave Eggers