Friday, December 12, 2014

And then. . .

I don't feel like giving a run down on all the things that have happened to me since my last blog entry. I wonder is there a category for "occasional blogger?" I hope I have earned a credential as non-compulsive (in this regard at least)!

Suffice it to say that in October I visited some Anglican religious communities in Cameroon and Tanzania (offering friendship and advice, not money). Then I travelled to England for an SSF Ministers pastoral Meeting, and followed this up with a wonderful stay at Glasshampton Monastery, our friary in Worcester, UK. I returned to New York the day before Thanksgiving.

If there was one major preoccupation in all of these visits and engagements it had to be about what makes the religious vocation flourish. In Africa the people we met were new at religious life for the most part. More than anything else they wanted connections with other Anglican religious. Conversations with them made me think about what I like and don't like about my life and where I perceive God's call.

Though we spoke a lot about structures and customs, this is not where I sense God's call.

Though we prayed in Latin, Swahili and English, God wasn't calling me in any particular language.

But in the shy looks of men and women who don't know what to say, I experienced God.

In the stories about a longing for a more serious, more beautiful life I heard the stirrings of the Holy Spirit, and experienced God.

In his poem "Church Going"Philip Larkin writes about how we "surprise a hunger in ourselves to be more serious," a hunger that "can never be obsolete."

In our SSF meeting we reaffirmed our love for the things that bind us together as an international Order: praying together, living together in fraternity and poverty, keeping a love for the poor in our hearts.

Buildings come and go, communities flourish and wither. New ways and new initiatives to respond to the persistent call of God are emerging all over the globe.

The danger is to think our way (whatever that is) is the only way. The Congregational Church had a terrific campaign a few years ago. A banner was displayed in front of our Mt. Sinai Congregational Church (along my usual jogging route): "Never put a period where God has placed a comma."

Religious life is, in the end, not just about organizing a comfortable or a theologically or ideologically agreeable community. During this Advent season we are reminded over and over again in the prescribed Bible readings that we exist to bear witness to God's presence in human community and the world. We are to bear witness to the ancient prophetic call of Isaiah and Jesus to stand for justice and peace. In America, and other places where my brothers live, basic human rights are challenged. We cannot relent in our efforts "to show others in his beauty and power the Christ who is the inspiration and joy" of our lives.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

St. Francis Day

This past week at a special Chapter meeting, the brothers decided to sell Little Portion Friary on Long Island, NY. It was a hard decision, one it has taken years to embrace. Still, it is painful for us and for many others affected by this decision

A friend wrote today in response to our decision: 

‘I was reading a bit on Navajo spirituality and came across this bit: "recognizing that life's tests pushed them to the depths of their greatest suffering, they also discovered that the same tests revealed their greatest strengths.  The key to their survival was to immerse themselves in life's challenges without become lost in the experience.  They had to find an "anchor" within themselves--a belief that gave them the inner strength to endure their tests--and the knowledge that a better day would follow. From this place of power they had the confidence to take risks, change their lives, and make sense of their world."

I wrote back: “thanks for this bit of Navajo wisdom. When I put our struggles up against the threats to Navajo culture in the 19th Century (and maybe even today), our troubles seem to deflate a bit...But we are definitely at a crossroads and we need to find that inner spiritual anchor. It seems fortuitous, or actually just grace-full, that today is the Feast of St.
Francis and we read about him, think about his life and struggles, and remember his spiritual anchor was radical poverty/letting go, and a desire always to follow the Spirit's lead, wherever it would take him. I had a dream last night I was being carved up alive by a sushi chef and served to a crowd of folks. I definitely have some work to do!

I think my spiritual anchor is the Franciscan ideal along with a feeling that my vows are for "better or worse."  In AA they say God hasn't brought me this far just to drop me on my ass. But I definitely feel winded.  I went running today and could hardly do it: it turned into walk/run, walk/run, bend over pant, pant, pant. Repeat. But I take encouragement from the fact I didn't give up and call a cab. I know my mental state affects my physical one, and also, objectively, the lack of exercise this past week is part of the reason for today's struggle. But what I see about myself in this experience is that I don't give up, and I can find lots of beautiful things to look at and think about. Also a memory from my novitiate: I want to grow into one of those old oaks that are all gnarled and seared yet have wide spreading branches--what we all think of as beautiful old oaks...

Nothing makes the Bible seem more topical and on target than real life set-backs!  For St. Francis Day, the Morning Prayer Gospel reading was from Matthew: don't be anxious about earthly things...consider the lilies of the field etc. Wow! One way or another we will right ourselves and the wind will fill the sails. Whatever decisions we make no matter if they are "right" or "wrong" I pray God will use them to make it possible for us to live our vocations with joy and gratitude.  The fact that the future seems very opaque is okay. I've been here before--I am a recovering alcoholic, for heaven's sake! The worst thing ever has become one of the greatest blessings of my life. I can't pin it down to any one moment when I began to feel that way, except I gradually realized God was in fact doing for me what I could not do for myself. I believe that God will do for us...”

Perhaps our greatest strengths are being revealed. Certainly there is no question in my mind Who the anchor is. As we say every morning: “We adore you O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy Cross you have redeemed the world.”

Happy St. Francis Day to us all!

Thursday, September 18, 2014

In San Francisco

It as been a long time since I posted. In UK the blog was blocked for some reason I am not technically savvy enough to sort out, then I was in Papua New Guinea from July 14 til Aug 14, then on holiday with my family. So now I am in San Francisco, with access to a computer (thanks Br. Leo!), and some time...

A high point of my time in Papua New Guinea was a trip from Ukaka to Yapua in Milne Bay Province. We went to celebrate with the people of Yapua on the feast of title of their chapel, The Transfiguration.  It was the kind of trip I love: three hours in the back of a truck with a crowd of people to begin with. One woman got on mid journey and gave me a sharp glance: "Are you Brother Clark?" she asked. I was astounded. Then she pulled out a2009 SSF Intercession booklet and showed me my picture. "I pray for you every day," she said. "I am a member of the Third Order." Her husband gave me a thumbs up sign, indicating he is a member of the Third order too. We made small talk over the roar of the engine and the flapping of the tarpaulin over our heads. Soon my friends got down and we continued on to the end of the road. The whole region is Anglican, so the significant landmarks are the Anglican parishes. At Holy Trinity we got down. "Almost there?" I asked. Smiling enigmatically a young man grabbed my back pack and we set off. we were nowhere near "there." He finally let on it might be five hours or more, depending on how fast I walked. Three hours into it we came to a swollen river choked with mud, trees and other swirling detritus. My companion shrugged of my pack and advising me to stay put, dove in. I watched with my heart in my throat, resolving I would never do that; I do have a shred of common sense. We took shelter in the home of a local person who was stranded on the other side of the river (there were 18 of us, men, women and children). Nobody was fazed. The holiday spirit of a church outing prevailed: we sang hymns, cooked and ate potatoes, napped in the smokey drafts of the cooking fire--which masked somewhat the smell of the pigs who shared our shelter: we'd clambered into a pig sty!  Finally the river subsided enough for us to ford the river, Brother Sebastian and I went first because I wanted to prove a point that I could do it on my own steam--they were proposing to carry me! But the flood spoiled one of my sandals, and after 300 yards it began to flap uselessly around my ankle. I pushed on barefoot for a bit, but my feet cannot cope with the stones and thorns like the local peoples' feet. So I had to stop, rummage around for socks and boots in my backpack; no more rivers on the route anyhow so I wouldn't have to take them on and off over and over. Finally we arrived at Yapua at 1:00 a.m. I was raining we were wet and muddy. So after tea Br. Sebastian and I found a clean stream and managed to wash. I hit the floorboards of our hut and slept stretched out on the planks. In the morning we scrambled around and got to morning prayer. After, while we watched the acolytes light the candles for the Mass, the priest came over and asked if I'd please preach. I should be used to this sort of thing, but I'm always taken aback by these impromptu requests. Nevertheless I managed a few words on the Transfiguration of our Lord.

The day after the feast we headed to the coast and chartered a dinghy to take us to Dogura to see the cathedral. It was built in 1937 and looks like a miniature European cathedral. Termites are destroying the beams, and birds swoop around inside, streaking the walls with droppings; Sebastian and I were both a bit disappointed. The place is legendary: the first Anglican missionaries came there, and from there the Anglican mission spread throughout the country.

I have been thinking about missionaries since that visit. In a way the clash of cultures is still going on. And now I find that even in USA the church needs to rethink how it does mission, we friars sometimes find ourselves out there on slippery slopes and in dangerous spots. The adventure isn't jut Indiana Jones kind of derring-do, but a real opportunity to go beyond our comfort zones, to reimagine what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ in the 21st Century. Certainly we need to listen closely to the natives as they know better than missionaries the best ways to get around. So here I am in San Francisco, trying to listen, to reimagine our mission, for ways to ground the Gospel and our Franciscan ministry.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Friday, June 13, 2014

Its all cricket

This Wednesday evening I had my first experience of a live cricket match. I've seen them on DVD's (Lagaan) and caught glimpses on TV, but never watched one. This one featured the Hilfiled/Pilsden team versus The Plumbers. The Plumbers won by about 80 points. But nobody was surprised. Our team featured a German boy who'd never seen a cricket match before either. (A very fast bowler, it was noted.) They tried to get me out there, but I talked them out of it, and instead became chief cheerleader.

The great joy of the event was being together, enjoying the beautiful summer evening sunlight, laughing and putting the magnifying glass on what community is: it is about people enjoying life, playing the game, letting go of any worry about the results--over which we have no control, at least at our skill level in cricket. In community, it is in God's hands.

There was an ad hoc quality to our team, which is parallel to my experience of community life too. There are certain givens, and skills to learn, but so much of what we do gets improvised. It depends on good will, clear lines of communication, unqualified support for all the players. Last week here in England we had our Chapter meetings, which pretty much confirmed what I am saying. People always ask if I dislike Chapter meetings. Actually I LIKE them. They are a chance for us to really talk, to examine our dreams and hopes, and sharpen our organizational skills.I also get a chance to catch up with all the brothers, their stories are heartening.

Go team!

The rural life in Dorset is quite exciting. Today we moved the cows to a new pasture--had to herd them along the road. We've been working in the garden, I've been weeding the brussel sprouts and cabbages. Every day or so I go for a run along the narrow country lanes. Yesterday Daniel O. (the German volunteer) and I were in the kitchen. He'd organized the menus and took the lead on putting the meals together, and I was his sous chef. The roasted veggies were a bit too crunchy for my taste, but all-in-all the meals were terrific, especially the Red Dragon Pie at lunch.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Peace: let it begin with me

Kookaburra song, scent of eucalyptus, profusion of orchids: back in Australia. New South Wales, or at least the area around the friary in Stroud, is beautiful.

Br. Raphael Suh SSF and I traveled across the Tasman Sea from New Zealand on Monday, Cinco de Mayo.

Chapter in New Zealand April 25-28 was a good time for re-connecting and enjoying time together as well as the usual work of such meetings. We shook off the cobwebs of Chapter with a visit to Yarndley's Bush (one of the largest remaining kahikata [trees] stands on the North Island of New Zealand). It reminded me of walking among the redwoods in northern California. Then, we took a brisk hike through part of Pirongia Forest. I loved the giant ferntrees and different kinds of bird calls.

A highlight of my time in Hamilton, NZ, was an art exhibit presented by Anglican Action. Anglican Action is the Anglican Diocese of Waikato's social service "umbrella" agency--nothing to do with the conservative Anglican Church of North America which also uses "Anglican Action." Under this agency's aegis are groups serving women, youth, the elderly; they provide counseling, jobs and food among much else.The missioner, Karen Morrison-Hume, after a visit to a cathedral and noting all the plaques to the war dead decided that Anglican Action needed to honor the peace dead. Artist Maree Aldridge created an extraordinary exhibit in honor of New Zealander Archibald Baxter (1881-1970). As a committed pacifist from age 19, Baxter was nevertheless conscripted during WWI and shipped to Europe. There he refused to cooperate and was subjected by the New Zealand military leaders to "Field Punishment Number 1." Essentially a nail-less crucifixion, Baxter was tied  to a pole with his feet just off the ground and left to hang by his arms for many days. The diabolical imagination of these officers in subjecting Baxter to this punishment for "fighting for a war-less world" and attempting to "treat other people as one would wish to be treated" is sickening. But it is not far fetched when one considers the vitriol directed at pacifists throughout history. The story of
Baxter's pacifism is a huge encouragement to be true to Gospel values and a condemnation of militarism.

For now, we are settling into the rhythms of life at our hermitage at Stroud. With my imagination fired by Baxter, I am fanning the flames for living Gospel values on a domestic front for now: praying together, eating together, working together. Yesterday the three of us brothers cut saplings and grubbed out the stumps with mattocks and pulaskis. Then I roasted some chicken, sauteed pumpkin and cabbage for an autmnal dinner.

How sweet it is when we live together in unity. How great the obligation to grub out noxious growth of invasive species and armies.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy Easter!

Easter Day Homily 2014: Br. Clark Berge, SSF

Church of the Epiphany

Los Angeles, CA


Christ is risen!

“He has been raised just as he said!” The angels cried from the tomb.

We heard last night how the message was carried by the women to the disciples: “Christ is risen!”

“God raised Jesus from death,” Peter says in Caesarea (as we hear this morning)—and presumably everywhere else that he went.

Paul proclaimed: “If Christ were not raised from the dead, then our faith would be in vain.”


The Resurrection is what makes us Christian—not just the social teachings of the New Testament. Actually what makes us Christian is not just what we do, but believing what God has done, and is doing, in Jesus Christ in the whole world.


I think it is almost impossible to convince anybody about Christ’s Resurrection. You can talk until you are out of breath—for some folks it sticks like a bone in the throat. But what does convince, has always convinced, it is when lives are transformed: when people see the power of the Resurrection in acts of generosity and courage.


Of course, people who say they don’t believe in anything are also generous and brave, and I am tempted to explain their reluctance to ascribe God credit to a failure of religion, rather than a lack of faith. God’s power is at work in us whether we know it or not; God has never been limited by what human Beings think is creditable or possible. This is what we celebrate this morning—the impossible is made possible, believe it or not: God raised Jesus from the dead!


The proof of the Resurrection—do you need proof? The proof I’d point to is the miracle of people getting sober in parish halls and church basements around the world. Every day the impossible becomes possible: and for many, only because they turn their life and their wills over to God. It is this same God who raised Jesus from the dead who then raises them from the grave of ruined lives and shattered relationships, to a life most of us cannot even imagine when we are in the grip of addiction.


It is this “beyond imagining” quality of Resurrection that is one of its Scriptural hallmarks and stands as a corrective to our pet projects and fondest hopes.


You can only coast on liturgical excitement for so long, my friends (and this is rather exciting, isn’t it?). Sooner or later you will be forced to look into the empty tomb for yourself and decide in your hearts to claim this great power of resurrection.


And then who knows what will happen in your life? This morning graves are opened, angels speak; Mary Magdalene is empowered as a witness to the resurrection. Today miracles abound. Are you ready to surrender to this redeeming grace? Are you ready to turn your life and your will over to God? Are you ready to allow the resurrection of Jesus to agitate your mind and inspire your heart? With God, all things are possible.

“Go,” Jesus tells Mary Magdalene. “Go to my brothers.” We are to go out into the streets and neighborhoods. Go live lives transformed by grace and joy so that all people can see and know that the whole world has been transformed and renewed by the Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.