Holy Cross Monastery, West Park
I'm a couple of days late with with this week's offering because I was away from the Monastery most of last week. I was on the Cornell University campus, doing my regular ministry with the Episcopal Church at Cornell, and didn't have the time to write.
During the fall and spring semesters I spend several days each month at Cornell. My work is a mixture of things: I often celebrate the Eucharist on Wednesday evenings and preach a short homily. Many times there is a meal following that service at the Chaplain's home and I participate in that and in the meetings that follow. Sometimes I lead those meetings or teach at them, sometimes I participate in the meeting and join in any conversation that follows them. During those days I also usually see people for spiritual direction or for more informal conversations, and I share meals with students and faculty who are members of ECC. There are social events, sometimes lectures and/or concerts and all sorts of other informal contacts. Once a semester I stay through a Sunday so that I can be at the Eucharist and I usually preach and sometimes celebrate that service. For me it is a really invigorating time.
It all came about sort of accidentally. Suzanne Guthrie, the Episcopal Chaplain, is an old friend of Holy Cross and of mine. She lived in this area for many years and worked as administrator and receptionist in our Guesthouse for a time. She was always a part of our extended family even when she was working elsewhere and so was Bill Consiglio whom she married during that time. For a long time Suzanne and I have worked together giving retreats and conferences, and we almost always team up each year to do the Advent Retreat in our Guesthouse. When I was Novice Master I had Suzanne teach classes to the novices about the spiritual life.
When Suzanne became the Cornell Chaplain she asked me if I would preach at her installation. I was delighted to do it and for more than one reason - since I am a Cornell alumnus, having graduated in 1960 with degree in Chemistry.
I've always been proud of being a Cornell alum, and my years there were very happy and fulfilling ones. And I've never thought much more about it all than that. I have some friends and contacts from those years, and because of some Cornell/Holy Cross contacts in the early 1970's I led a couple of retreats on the campus in those years, and I hadn't been back to Cornell since that time - more than 30 years. I have never felt any urge to attend reunions or to hang around the campus. The alumni association in this area writes me several times a year and I have almost never done anything about that. I have never thought of myself as particularly connected to my university by anything but some pleasant memories.
So what happened when I preached at Suzanne's Installation came as a complete surprise to me, one that I was altogether unprepared for. It was, simply, one of the most overwhelming emotional experiences of my life. Something about standing in that Chapel, where I made my first tentative moves towards an adult relationship with God, and offering back some of the perspective that I have achieved in the years since then, reached town all the way to the bottom of my being. The circle completed itself: I wasn't a student any more, I was a mentor. It was as though something inside me had been waiting all those years to fall into place. I came away more whole than I had ever felt, and it was months before my emotional life settled down again.
What is this about? I've been reflecting on this in the four years that have passed since that day and I'm still not completely sure. But college was certainly the first time I lived life on my own terms. At Cornell I chose friends who would be with me for the rest of my life. I made my first decisions as an adult about my studies, my future, my life. I guess, though I wasn't completely aware of the process at the time, that I became a person in a way that I can own during those years. And to reach out and touch all of that from the perspective of a life lived as a Benedtine monk, and to offer some ofwhat I have learned as a man and a monk to people who are themselves beginning their adult lives was an amazing experience.
After that, getting involved in the ministry with the Episcopal Church at Cornell was a matter of inevitability. It just revealed itself, or at least that's what it feels like. If, in the 80's, or 90's you had told me how deeply I was molded by my years in Ithaca I would have had trouble believing you. Now, going back seems the most natural thing that could have happened.
I'm sure that each person who reads this has a similar place in their lives, a place where they were formed and started to become who they are. And it's been my experience that reaching out and touching that place is a very important thing to do. Offering something back also seems to be pretty crucial. It's something us old folks need to do to complete the circle of life.