Monday, February 19, 2018

Back in the bleak (?) mid-winter

I got home from South Africa in time to start Lent with my West Park Brothers. Lent is usually a busy season in our Guesthouse and it is also a season when Brothers go out on missions.

Br. Joseph Wallace-Williams is on mission in San Antonio, Texas for the week.
From top, left to right: Sylvia Maddox (Assoicate), Fr. Brad Landry, Rector of Saint Pauls Episcopal Church, San Antonio Texas (Aassociate ), Br. Joseph , Nancy Hibbs (widow of Bishop Hibbs, long time Associate and friend of Holy Cross), Gillian Cook (O.P.), and Elizabeth Landry; Br. Joseph leading a parish Quiet Day.
Br. Joseph leading reflections in the chapel of St Paul's Episcopal Montessori School
Brothers Josép and Aidan went to Kent School for a day at the invitation of their Chaplain, The Rev. Kate Kelderman. Kent School was founded as a work of the Order of the Holy Cross (OHC) in 1906. Its driving force and first Principal was Father Frederick Herbert Sill who toiled at the school until his death in 1952. The school became independent from OHC in the fourties.

Br. Josép addressed the students about monastic values and as the good choirmaster that he is couldn't help himself but get them to sing with him.
Br. Josép and Aidan visiting Kent School, in Kent, CT. From left, clockwise: Br. Josép addressed five hundred students and led them in song; the tomb of Fr. Sill, the founder of Kent School; Bros. Aidan and Josép with the Rev. Kate Kelderman, chaplain of Kent School.
This week, the temperature got into the fifties for a day and that was enough for Br. Aidan to visit our gardens to see how they are shaping up as Spring points at the horizon. Well, it's official: the hellebores are coming up! Surely, the snowbells and croci can't be far behind.

From left, clockwise: frequent visitor and garden volunteer Beth Gutwin from Williston, VT;
and hellebore buds peeping from the flower beds.
As usual, this Sunday morning, some of us went to visit Brothers Lary and Rafael at their nursing home. Brother Aidan and Richard used their respective clerical orders to offer communion and pray a blessing. It was a good day to stay warm indoors but beautiful to look at as the snow gleamed in the sunshine.
From left, clockwise, the old cemetery cross; the old oak in the Little Cloister;
Br. Rafael listening to the news from Bros. Aidan and Richard.
Ice floes on the Hudson break the reflections of the pre-dawn light.
The view from my cell on Sunday morning.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

A school country fair and a day safari

Last Saturday, Holy Cross School was holding its annual Country Fair. The monks joined the many parents, staff, students and friends of the School for a morning of fun and merriment. There were several attractions for the kids to enjoy and a variety of foods to sample from. Br. Daniel, the monastery's Prior was hard at work flipping "pannekoeken" (Afrikaans for thin pancake, a.k.a. crêpes). He was at it for a few hours and eventually ran out of dough and enjoyed a well-deserved rest. The country fair calls upon the participation of dozens of volunteers from across Grahamstown.

The Jumping Castle was a favorite
The water and foam slides got much use

Wheee! If you take a running lead you can slide all the way to the end pool

Face paintings in the making

A braai (Afrikaans for barbecue) getting started
When the hard South African sun got to be too much, the monks would retire to the coffee shop set up in the school´s library hosted by a team of students from the Diocesan School for Girls. The library also hosted a sale of items offered by students and supporters of the school. I got to snatch another Br. Rob original pastel drawing with a green background (so predictable, I go for green whenever I can).
From left to right, Br. Bernard, Br. Joel and Br. Robert James enjoying great coffee and cool in the library

The dynamic volunteers from Diocesan School for Girls

Holy Cross School student art; still life of a bowl of fruit
On Monday, our day of sabbath, the five of us monks in residence went to Pumba Game Reserve in Highlands, a short drive from the monastery. We had a great ranger with a keen eye for where the animals were. All in all I saw 16 kinds of mammals and a giant tortoise, some of them closer than I would ever have imagined. An adolescent elephant and a giraffe came to check out our Range Rover and its passengers from just a few feet from us.  The day felt like a fireworks celebration of the Creator´s delight in diversity.
An older male giraffe

White rhinoceroses crowding each other in the shade of a bush

Young elephant splashing himself with mud to cool off and ward off insects
After spraying so much mud, he went to another, cleaner water hole to  have a drink

There a plenty of large groups of impalas at Pumba. I liked the look of this buck against the sky.

Lovely lunch with our ranger at the Pumba Bush Lodge.
From left to right, Br. Roger, Br. Daniel, Ranger Thomas, Br. Joel and Br. Robert James
Throughout my stay at the monastery, I have also spotted a great variety of birds and some butterflies. I am not great at impromptu photography so I found a couple of pictures to share the beauty with you.
Lesser (Southern) Double-Collared Sunbird

Knysna Lourie. When it flies away you see its bright red wings.
Just in case you wondered, I thoroughly enjoyed my first visit to South Africa. It was a very special treat to visit places I have so long prayed for and wanted to see. Thank you very much to my Maryia uMama weThemba Monastery Brothers for their warm hospitality. I am glad I got to experience first-hand your life of prayer, worship and ministry.

Friday, February 2, 2018

Discovering the Holy Cross Life, the South African Way

I am visiting our South African Brothers at Marya uMama weThemba Monastery in Grahamstown, South Africa. I traveled here a week ago with Br. Robert James Magliula, our Superior, and Daniel Ludik, the Prior of our South African monastery.

They had both been involved the week before in the three-day in-person meeting of our Council of the Order of the Holy Cross. OHC's Council had met at the Linwood Spiritual Center in Rhinebeck, NY, just far away enough from Holy Cross Monastery to be unconcerned by the daily goings-on of a house of our Order.

Br. Robert James is making a one-month visitation to the Grahamstown monastery. I am tagging along for two weeks before returning to West Park. This is the last of our four houses that I hadn't seen yet and my first visit to South Africa. The trip from Holy Cross Monastery to Marya uMama weThemba Monastery takes 21 hours if all goes well. The time difference with West Park is 7 hours. The jet lag bothered me a bit for three days or so.

It is a strange and comforting thing to visit another house of our Order for the first time. One experiences the displacement of another location and culture and the familiarity of the monastic life and the Holy Cross ethos. Within a few hours of being at Marya uMama weThemba Monastery, I felt at home while in a country that is entirely new to me.
Displacement and familiarity. Clockwise, from left, my first wild elephant on the way from Port Elizabeth airport to the monastery; the view from my cell: fresh flowers, compliment of my brothers, the veld and a wind turbine a the top of the ridge; a familiar face and t-shirt, Br. Roger and I showing up in the same t-shirt commemorating our marching together in the People's Climate March in New York, in September 2014.
This house sings the Camaldolese divine office (like Mount Calvary Monastery in Santa Barbara, CA. The liturgical schedule is a bit different (it starts earlier with Vigils at 6 a.m. and concludes earlier with Compline sung right after supper. But the way of doing things feel familiar with an emphasis on beautiful simplicity, common sense and reasonable comfort.

Still, the climate, the landscape, the people, the flora, and fauna remind me "we're not in New York anymore!" It is summer here. Grahamstown is not far from the Indian Ocean and the weather is changeable. In a week's time, I have experienced sun and warmth, fog and rain (the latter particularly welcome as the Eastern Cape province experiences a drought). But at all time, there is a breeze or a gale blowing. One of the ridges surrounding the monastery is the site of a wind farm. Eight giant wind turbines are a constant visual reminder that the wind is blowing. I actually enjoy their presence and their contribution to a sustainable energy system.

The gardens surrounding the many low-lying buildings of the monastery create a respite from the constant breeze. I love seeing plants that are rare or exotic back home growing like weeds around us (proteas and agapanthus, for example).
It's summer here! Flowers in the garden: from top, clockwise, agapanthus in front of hydrangeas; exploding hydrangeas next to a giant philodendron; plucking up proteas from the veld around the monastery.
The birds are a constant presence too. Their calls and songs are often heard in the background, even indoors. I use the birding guide in the common room to discover who are these beauties I spot as flashes of color in-between the flowering shrubs of the garden. Sorry, I'm no good at catching pictures of the birds...

Three Brothers live here now. Br. Daniel, their Prior and Bros. Roger and Joel. They immediately made me feel right at home. I'm so glad that I finally get to see them in their home environment. Both Daniel and Roger have visited Holy Cross Monastery extensively. But I hadn't yet met Br. Joel, our Novice here.

A hundred yards uphill from the monastery stands Holy Cross School, a preparatory school for rural children that the monastery founded. Br. Robert James was its first principal for a few years when he lived here until 2013 (before he came back to West Park to become our then Novice Master). He took me on a visit to the current principal, Ms. Kary McConnachie. This is the fourth school founded in the history of our Order (Kent School in Connecticut, St Andrew's in Tennessee and St Augustine in Liberia; all still operating but now independent from our Order).

Kary took us on tour to see what's up at Holy Cross School. It's an incredibly dynamic school offering high quality at affordable cost to the families. It was exciting to see all the good that is being done there. I told Kary it was a very special treat to meet in person the staff and the children we keep praying for every week back in West Park.
Two Principals. From top, clockwise, Br. Robert James and Ms. Kary McConnachie, current Principal of Holy Cross School; Kary telling us about the current state of the school; in the hallway, after recreation, the kids are getting their multi-vitamin tablet, while Nurse Jenny McConnachie (unrelated to the Principal) overlooks the process.
Well, that's all for this week. I miss my New York Brothers but I'm delighted to spend quality time with the Grahamstown Broskis.