Sunday, July 16, 2017

Summer treats

Spring and Fall are my favorite seasons in the Hudson Valley. But summer has its pluses too. At night, I love to look to the meadow and see the fireflies putting on their modest but fascinating pyrotechnic show. Barring close range lighting strikes, of which we got a damaging one a few weeks ago, I also love summer thunder storms (albeit from the protection of a building).

This week, friends invited me to an al fresco theater show at the Boscobel estate, in Cold Spring. A large tent, looking out on the Hudson River and West Point is the setting of plays throughout the summer. We got there early to picnic in the park and then saw a new adaptation of "Pride and Prejudice." It was a lot of fun. Live theater is such a special treat. And I've decided I'll need to read the novel soon to re-visit the joys of the play and discover the writing of Jane Austen.

Picnic at Boscobel with Gwyneth, Tim and Alison - the theater festival's tent is seen in the background
Throughout the week, the house has resonated with the sounds of flutes as pupils of Gary Schocker rehearsed and performed lots of lovely music. Sunday morning, they gave a concert in the church. Other guests (having been warned a the time of making their reservations for this week) seemed to enjoy it too.

This Saturday, we received a new Associate; James Ryan of Long Island, NY. He came up for the mass and stayed for the day. The weather was perfect for a visit.
Our newest Associate, James Ryan
This week-end, we had the visit of two Vedanta devotees. Swami Chidbrahmananda, a monk of the Ramakrishna Order, was interested in revisiting Christianity from his Vedanta experience. He was accompanied by his friend Santa Das who is leading youth camps with him this summer. They were on a break between two groups of young people visiting their camp.
Swami Chidbrahmananda, Br. Bernard, Santa Das
A few monks had an opportunity to have long conversations with each of them. I got to explore our respective concepts of God and to reflect on the Christian concepts of hell and sin. In shorthand, I believe sin is to experience my deliberate separation from God and that hell is becoming aware and experiencing where my life fell short of divine love when I will be in the evident presence of Absolute Love (God).

This Sunday, our Sisters from the Companions of Mary the Apostle visited us. Sr. Shane was with us for Mass and throughout the morning. Sr. Elizabeth joined us for dinner and an after-dinner game of Quirkle.
Bros. John and Enrique being inducted in the joys of Quirkle by our CMA Sisters
This past Monday, Br. Scott left for the South African part of his sabbatical. He will be living with our community in Grahamstown, enjoying their winter (Br. Scott does prefer cool weather). He will be back with us in September for a few weeks before heading back out for the British parts of his sabbatical.

This Saturday, Br. Robert Leo left on the first part of his sabbatical too. He will be visiting friends and family in New England and Pennsylvania and will be back for a few days in September before leaving for the English part of his sabbatical.

We will miss them both but are really happy for the opportunities these sabbaticals offer each of them.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Hanging out with Associates

Thirteen Associates and Associate candidates joined us for a time of retreat this week. They lucked out on the weather; it was sunny with temperatures in the high seventies, low eighties throughout the week.

Allan Spencer, new AHC of St Catherines, Ontario
Brother Josép, the Interim Director of Associates, had prepared a program centered on the theme "Back to Basics." I was asked to present a session to the Associates and talked with them about Christian hospitality (a theme on which I had preached last Sunday).

Hospitality is one of the basic values of Benedictine spirituality on which we ask our Associates to center their rule of life: Community, Hospitality, Humility, Balance and Mindfulness.

Dave Vaughn, new AHC of Onley, VA
The Associates also got to spend time with Bros. Josép, Roy, Robert James, Bede and Robert Leo (the James and Leo middle names is how we keep our new and past Superiors distinct).

Br. Josép is doing a great job working with Associates and Probationer Associates (people who are "trying it on for size" and discerning how to write a rule of life). As a matter of fact, three Probationers were received as Associates during this week.

Liz Haak, new AHC, of New York City
If you are interested in spiritual growth and in a more ordered spiritual life, then you may wish to consider becoming an Associate.

For more information or a copy of the Associates’ Rule, please contact Br. Josép Martinez-Cubero, Interim Director of Associates, Holy Cross Monastery, PO Box 99, West Park NY 12493.


Br. Lary Pearce
This past Monday, Br. Lary Pearce moved to the same nursing home as Br. Rafael Campbell-Dixon in the village of Highland. He will receive the much needed care that is appropriate for his health situation. The Hudson Valley Rehabilitation and Extended Care Center (HVREC quite a mouthful) is situated 7.5 miles South of the monastery. We can easily visit and also take our brothers out on occasions. 

Recently, Br. Rafael came to the monastery for the visit of the Presiding Bishop. 

Br. Rafael pays attention to the Presiding Bishop's preaching

This morning Br. Roy and I brought communion to our two HVREC residents. They were both in good spirits and happy to see us.  

Some of our Associates took some free time in their retreat schedule to go visit Rafael and Lary this week. We'll be happy to give you driving directions if you wish to do that next time you visit the monastery. 

Please pray for Br. Lary as he negotiates this important transition in his living arrangements.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

Guests famous and not-yet-so-famous

This week, we were delighted to welcome The Most Rev. Michael Curry to the monastery. He is the Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church. He was coming to be with nine volunteers of the Young Adult Service Corps (YASC) and the Episcopal Volunteers In Mission (EVIM) who were completing two weeks of orientation (most of it at the monastery) with Church staff.

Bishop Michael took the opportunity to preach at the festive Eucharist for the feast of St Peter and St Paul. He preached on how the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.

After the mass, the monastic community had an opportunity to sit down with the Bishop for coffee and conversation. I was a beautiful opportunity to get to know our Presiding Bishop better.
Coffee and Hudson Valley apple cider donuts to fuel conversation
Br. Laurence offers an origami mobile of his making - all with biblical symbols
The community's goodie bag for the PB

Framing the visit of our Presiding Bishop were the receptions of two new Associates; at mass, Br. Josép, our interim Associates Director welcomed Jarrett Kerbel on Wednesday and Meg Galbreath on Friday. It's always a privilege to bring new members into the Holy Cross family of Associates. If you want to become an Associate, get in touch with Br. Josép (

Our two newest Associates. Will you say a prayer for them?
On Friday, at Vespers, the community prayed over the YASC and EVIM missionaries who were returning home the next day. They enjoyed their orientation and appreciated their time at the monastery. Some came to call it "home." We certainly look forward to their returning after their year of mission abroad to debrief their experience. Thank you to all the Church Center staff and their consultants who prepare these missionaries so well.

Episcopal volunteers and monks
We keep these missionaries in prayer throughout the year. May they be received as a blessing and receive many blessings in return.

Missionaries and their Presiding Bishop

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Transitions, transitions, transitions!

The Prior is back. Only, it's not the same Prior.

From early 2007 to mid-2011, Br. Bede, who was then the Prior of Holy Cross Monastery kept readers informed on things going on at the monastery and their import or meaning for him. Br. Bede wrote pretty much on a weekly rhythm. I don't know that I will match that, but we'll see.

I am very fortunate that I have become the new Prior of our monastery at a time when our community is thriving. Seventeen monks live at the monastery today. That's the largest number of monks here since I joined the Order in early 2004. We pray and chant well together. And we work, serve and play well together. I hope to tell you more about our crew in the future.

What strikes me today is the sheer amount of transition that is going on within our walls. Here are some of the transitions I can think of for the moment.

Light transitioning through a prism. Happy Pride Month to all, by the way.

Br. Robert James Magliula was elected Superior of the Order of the Holy Cross at its annual chapter meeting in West Park on Thursday, June 8. He was installed as our new Superior on Saturday, June 10. That's what I call a fast transition. Br. Robert James will be in residence at Holy Cross Monastery and is in the process of moving from his previous cell and office.

He succeeds Br. Robert Sevensky who has been the Superior of the Order of the Holy Cross (OHC) for nine years. Br. Robert is leaving for a well-deserved six-month sabbatical on July 15 in the United Kingdom. He will come back to us in January 2018. That only leaves the past and new Superiors a few weeks to pass on the baton.

Once our OHC Chapter had elected new members to the five-brother Council that advises the Superior they met for their first in-person meeting on Sunday, June 11. One of their jobs was to consider the local elections of Priors and Formators in our four monasteries (Santa Barbara, CA, Toronto, ON, Grahamstown, South Africa, and West Park, NY).

They approved the candidates selected by their respective houses. And that's how I became "official." Our monastery had conducted the election of a Prior Coadjutor back in January. This was a novelty meant to enable a smooth transition of responsibilities between the incumbent Prior, Br. Scott Borden and myself. It has proven a very fruitful way of handling the transition.

As it happens, Br. Scott had a most unfortunate accident in mid-May at the monastery while conducting re-wiring of our internal electronic network. He fell from a scaffold and broke both his arms. He soon had reparative surgery which has been very successful in speeding up his healing. He still wears removable casts at this time but is doing really well.

Soon after his accident, Br. Scott and I decided it made sense to speed up the transition of responsibilities and I became Acting Prior, pending approval by OHC's council. At this stage, I have been in charge of our monastery for five weeks.  I can definitely say that it has thickened the consistency of my calendar.

The Prior of a monastery is the leader who is ultimately responsible for the administrative and pastoral management of the monastery's community, its ministries, its businesses and finance. I have started being involved in several ways in all of these areas. 

Luckily, this is a team sport and I rely on the brothers a lot; there is very little that the office of Prior enables me to do alone. I have to give guidelines and perspective, then delegate, then supervise and fine-tune the guidelines as we go. What's different from corporate management is that all along pastoral concerns mix with the business of getting things done. Few managers live round the clock in an egalitarian, love-oriented environment with their charges. It has its advantages and challenges.

Brother Scott has started taking a six-month sabbatical. For the moment, he is at home recuperating from his accident and surgery and generally taking it easy - when he is not fixing some of our Information Technology that got fried by a thunder-storm last week...

Soon, he will leave to go visit our house in Grahamstown, South Africa. He will then attend a religious ecumenical conference in Germany (on the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation). He will then return a few weeks to our monastery and may take classes at the Enneagram Institute. In October, he will lead with Br. Aidan Owen a pilgrimage in England and Scotland. Finally, he will spend time with the Community of the Resurrection, a Benedictine community in Mirfield, in the North of England.

This means, the Order and the monastery are in new hands and we will be out of two faithful and talented brothers for the better part of the rest of 2017.

But there are more transitions going on. In May, two men entered the monastery as postulants; the Rev. Peter Pearson and Mr. Enrique Yepes. They will try their vocation with us through their six-month postulancy. God willing, they will then be clothed as novices of our Order and continue their monastic formation while increasing their involvement in the worship and work of the community.

By mid-July, Br. Bob Pierson will relocate from our monastery in Santa Barbara, California, to become our new Novice Master. At present, Br. Robert James Magliula is doing double duty by giving classes to our men in formation.

Regretfully, Br. Simon Thuku asked to leave our novitiate and returned to live in New York City in mid-June. We have greatly appreciated living and worshiping with Simon and we wish him the very best in the next stage of his life.

As you can see that is a lot of transition to go through in only a few months for a (still relatively small) band of monks. We are all relying on our respective support networks to help us learn and grow through it all but it can get stressful at times.

I believe we all look forward to some stabilization and routine settling in in the months to come, God willing. In the meantime, may I ask for your prayers for all the men involved. In return, don't hesitate to let us know what we can pray for together with you.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Short, Sweet Summary

OHC's 298th Chapter - The assembled monks and a few Holy Cross Companions
West Park, Saturday, June 11, 2011 - picture by Br. Randy Greve (who ran into place, top right)

Chapter is over! It was quite an amazing week. We worked really hard. We prayed hard, as well. We even played some. And we emerged from all of this as a remarkably united, energized, and amazingly well-functioning group of men - brothers.

We agreed to the founding of Holy Cross School in Grahamstown (South Africa). This will be a school under the Order's aegis which will provide high-quality primary education for poor rural children.

This is an outcome of years of work, trying to find a solution to the dreadful educational conditions in the area around our monastery. Schools are seriously sub-standard or completely absent. Over the years we have started a scholarship program, an after-school tutoring program, recreational programs and other things. The outcome has been the realization that the kids are so deprived so early that the only solution is to have a school that will get them early and will have first-class instruction right from the beginning.

We will be operating grades K-3 (actually South Africa calls Kindergarten "Reception", so it will be R-3). We have good advice that if we get them started this far, they will be able to adjust to the excellent schools that can be found in town, and we can see that they are able to continue in those schools through our Scholarship Program. We will support them for as long as they want to remain in school - through college, if that is their goal. Our scholarship program has just had its first students graduate from local universities, so we have a track record there.

The Order has committed to pay for the construction of the school building, and work will begin soon, so that we can have a Grade R and a Grade 1 beginning in January, when the school year starts. We will then add one grade a year until we are operating all 4 years. Classes will be small. Instruction will be first-rate. Equipment will be state of the art. The school is going to be small, because of the small size of the classes, so what we can accomplish will be limited. But we are going to do what we can. We have also committed ourselves to a major capital funds drive which will raise money to finance and endow the school.

The monastery in Grahamstown is named (in the local language) Maria u Mama we Themba, which means Mary, mother of hope. This is one of the ways in which we are determined to offer hope to the poor people who live in the area around us. And without this school, the local kids have very little in the way of hope.

The Order also committed itself to a major building renovation at the monastery here in West Park. This involves installing a new roof on the monastery building (which has needed doing since the day the building was finished in 1967). This will make possible the remodeling of several rooms to provide Assisted Living space for some older brothers, as I described last week. We are finalizing the plans at the present time. We hope we can begin on this project within a few months.

The conversations that led up to these decisions were full of energy and of hope. Passing the actual resolutions took less than an hour. We were extraordinarily united. It was an amazing week!

We also took an afternoon off for a cruise on the Hudson River. It was really fun. You get a totally different perspective when you're down on the river itself.

Monday is a rest day for me. Tuesday is for packing. Wednesday I leave for Kerhonkson, at the foot of the Catskills. When next you hear from me I will be into my Sabbatical.

I deeply appreciate the many good wishes and promises of prayer that so many people have sent. I hope before long to be letting you in on what life is like for a monk on the loose.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

In Between

Andrew preached this morning on this being an "in between" Sunday - in between Ascension and Pentecost - and of the difficulty of getting in touch with the identity of this day. As it happens, that was something that was good to hear for me, because I'm in a very in between time myself.

I'm still in charge, but nearly everything has been passed on, so there's nothing to be in charge of, except to be the one who indicates when the silence at the end of readings is over. And it's been about 40 years since I have haven't been in charge of something.

It's disorienting, and I have become easily distracted, so I'm now finding at regular intervals that I've made the wrong decision or given the wrong signal for something to happen. It's embarrassing, but the community corrects me gently, and we go on our way. And it won't last long: about 10 days now.

I remember that I reacted in much the same way in 1982 when my time as Novice Master ended and I went to be Prior of our house in South Carolina, only I had fewer years on me then, and somewhat more grace with which to handle the confusions of the time. But as I told people at that time, some of these things are simply not under my control. My body and my mind are making this change at their own pace, and I have a limited amount to say about that.

And there is comfort in knowing that the change is happening, even if I'm not causing it. I'm making the adjustment that needs to be made, and it's happening surely and steadily. It's nice to know that it doesn't all depend on my skillful or unskillful decisions. My mind has its own sense of timing, and I have to trust that sense.

In the midst of all of this there was a small wonder dropped into our midst. In the middle of the week we came out from lunch one day and someone said that there was a fawn on the lawn over by the monastery building, so a small bunch of us headed in that direction.

Just by the monastery building the grass was quite high. Our groundsman had fallen behind in his mowing because of the difficulty of getting a heavy mower into parts of our grounds which had become water logged in the recent rains. So we passed beyond the stone wall just outside the door to our Church and went through thigh-high grass and there, just in the middle of the lawn, was a very small, perfectly circular nest, and lying in it was a tiny deer, looking at us with huge eyes, and lying perfectly still - so still that it was hard to tell if it was actually breathing.

It was really beautiful, and quite awesome, and there she was, all by herself. And where was the mother? Well, as ordinary urban Americans, most of us had no idea where she was. But one of the brothers went off to find out from the source of all knowledge these days; the InterNet. And he discovered that when a doe has given birth she makes a little nest for her offspring and then goes away for an extended period. This apparently is the safest way for the newborn to survive. The mother is feeding so she can produce milk to feed it, and she is not drawing attention to the fawn while it is helpless. It is nearly scentless because she has licked it thoroughly clean before she leaves, so it is usually quite safe, since the nest is usually not visible in the high grass where does prefer to leave their fawns. Who would have guessed?

The newborn, of course, doesn't like this kind of treatment, so the doe usually has to put her foot down - literally - on the infant and roll it up in a ball and force it to stay down, and then she goes off. But the fawn has some sense of what's good for it, because it stayed quite still and unmoving while we were there.

We were careful to stay fairly far away and to be there for only a short time. Rafael, whose room looks out on that patch of lawn, said that he saw the fawn get up to stretch in the middle of the afternoon, and then it laid back down, and from most of our windows it was quite invisible. By the next morning it was gone, so both it and the mother are no doubt wandering about in the woods by now, and the next time we see them, the baby will be much larger.

I like the idea that the mother thought that a really good, safe place to put her newborn would be some tall grass about 15 feet away from one of our buildings. The local wildlife is generally pretty tame, because they know they face no danger from us or our guests. But this is evidence of just how safe they feel. Either that, or there is a shortage of tall grass this year, and that certainly doesn't appear to be the case.

While we're speaking of the wildlife, one of our guests saw a bear yesterday afternoon, ambling placidly across the lawn. You never know.

I certainly appreciate the good wishes from so many of you for my sabbatical and the expressions of appreciation for the blog. It does feel at this point like I will be continuing it, but I want to wait until I actually get into my new situation and have some time to feel what that's like before I make a decision. I'll also need to see what my rhythm is and when the best time to write would be because, as I've said, I'll be away from my house on Sunday mornings and not able to do it then. But I won't be dropping the blog suddenly in any case, and will give some notice about any changes.

That being said, I don't know when my next post will actually be. Next Sunday we'll be in the midst of our Chapter - which is the annual business and planning meeting of the Order, so I won't be free to do my usual writing. I'll try to get a note in to let you know what the situation is. I move a week from Wednesday, so my life will be unsettled for a couple of weeks now, but I'll be back with news of what's up when I'm able to do it.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Plans and More Plans

The community is making plans: plans for the future, and especially for the next year. All sorts of things are afoot.

This is, of course, a result of the sort of transition we are making. Scott is being installed as the new Prior on the 12th of June, and I will be gone on the 15th so, as I have explained in the past few postings, we are doing a transition process in the days leading up to the new Prior's installation instead of afterwards.

So plans, as I say, are being made. Important space is being given to thinking about the integrity of the community's life. There has been a very large increase in the number of people using the Guesthouse in the past couple of years, and especially in this last year. We've been experiencing these increases for some time now, and periodically we need to stop and make sure that the tail isn't wagging the dog.

Of course, we earn our living by running the Guesthouse, and it's important that it thrive. It's also important that we take a look periodically and make sure that we have the time and the silence necessary for our lives as monks, for prayer, for lectio, for reflection. Scott has asked the community to plan more retreat time into the schedule of the next year, and this is a really good beginning. More than anything, we need to have these reflections on a regular basis, just to make sure that we're still in balance.

And to move to the other side of the balance, James, who will be the new Guesthouse Director, has asked for more of the community to be directly involved in the hospitality side of the ministry - welcoming guests, helping them find their place and get settled, orienting them and seeing that they are comfortable and know how to negotiate this mildly complex set of buildings. We hope this will increase the hospitality of our welcome.

We're also considering a new initiative in ministry. We are investigating the possibility of running an intern program for college students that would be based on ministry in the local area and spiritual formation for the interns.

This would be a direct outflow of the living of our monastic life; sharing with young people what it's like to live a life of prayer, and leading them into the practices necessary to sustain such a life. We think this would be a gift to the church, and a very rewarding ministry for us. Enough college age men and women come here now for us to know that this is an attractive place for young adults. Having a ministry directly focused on them is an obvious next step.

This will mean some construction, of course, and some fund-raising. If you've seen our newsletter, the Mundi Medicina, you'll know that we have a space that could fairly easily be made into a suite of 4 bedrooms with a bathroom and a common room, so that the interns could have their own space, which would greatly assist in their community building.

So the next year will be for planning, for fund raising and for various practical considerations. If things go as we hope, we think we could be ready to launch this ministry a year from this fall.

We also considering how we can better provide for the elderly members of our community. Since the earliest days in West Park, we have regularly had to place elderly brothers who are in need of care in nursing homes in the area. This is far from optimal and we don't like it any more than any family does, but it is sometimes necessary. But we think that the time that our brothers spend in such care might be lessened, or in some cases even eliminated by some remodeling of our space, so that we could provide a monastic version of Assisted Living.

We have been very lucky over the years that such a large proportion of our community has had vigorous health into old age, and that we have had to make relatively little use of nursing homes. But this is something that we can't continue to count on, especially as modern medicine is prolonging life so markedly. So Scott has been consulting with our architect about the renovation of some space in our monastery building, and we will talk with the wider community about this at Chapter, and see how we all feel about it after we have talked it over.

So we are moving forward. I've expressed to the community how excited I am about what the transition is revealing, and how much I am going to miss being part of the process. But I know that a period of time away will be good for me and most helpful for the developing of this next era in the community's life. I'll just have to look forward to my return and to seeing how things have worked out, and where I fit into the life that is yet to be revealed.

PS - as part of the transition, this blog will be renamed "Bede's Blog." It will continue to be featured on our web site's "Community Meditations" page. Come visit me there!