Monday, June 11, 2007

Another Chapter

I'm a bit late this week. This is because the past 7 days we have been occupied with the meetings of our Annual Chapter, which is the business meeting of our wider community, the Order of the Holy Cross. We are a community that has 5 monasteries in 3 different countries - The United States, Canada and South Africa. Once a year we have our Chapter and this year we met here at West Park and nearly every member of the Order was able to come. This isn't always true, but it's always good when everyone, or almost everyone, can come to this combination of a business meeting and a family reunion.

And it really is a family occasion. These are the people with whom I have spent my life. I have lived with most of them at one time or another. I was trained with some of them. Since I spent many years being the Novice Master, I also trained some of them. We have lived, worked, partied and fought with each other as the years have gone by. Because we are a small community we know each other quite well.

This year something happened that, while I have seen something like it on occasion, is certainly not a frequent experience. We had a number of difficult issues to face. Among them is the fact that, while we are a vigorous community with a good number of younger men, we are still predominantly older, and we need to face that fact and make plans for it. And these need to be plans that will enable the Order to continue to be vigorous and out-going as we care for those of us who are becoming less active.

So we began with some group discussion. We started with a presentation and some small group meetings. Then on our second morning we had set time aside for a free conversation about our current situation and we left the floor open for anyone to say what was on their mind. We began with a description of current dilemmas and our challenges to living creatively given the realities of our lives. And as we went on the discussion began to change. One by one the brothers began to talk, not about fears but about their love of Holy Cross and of how God drew them to us. We talked about our ideals and what a life of service and of giving our lives to Christ has meant for us. Many of us talked about how differently our lives had turned out from what we had expected when we entered Holy Cross, and how enriching that had been. We talked about triumphs, turning points and small joys. We reaffirmed our faith in each other and in this community in which we have served, some of us for a long time.

And as we spoke the atmosphere became more tender. Our hearts opened to our history and to our community and to each other. It was very moving to be in that room and to share my ideals and my history with my brothers, who always turn out to have pretty much the same ideals, even if the histories have been somewhat different. It was a gentle and deep moment in our common life.

It was also a very creative moment. From that morning on we dealt with a number of hard decisions and difficult discussions and we mostly did it with grace and love. (I will have to admit that we are not at our best when dealing with the details of parliamentary procedure, and one day we'll learn to laugh even about that). We made decisions that we had not thought we would be able to arrive at this year. We have turned some corners - corners that we didn't think we would go around just yet. We experienced how very creative a shared love is.

I guess we're like lots of families. This tender level of our common life is not where we often live and not something we often share. The business of daily living and yearly decision making more commonly crowds this sharing off the stage. And I don't know whether this sharing can be programmed or whether we just have to leave it to happen when it will. I do know that it has not always turned out very well when we tried to force this kind of discussion to happen.

But it's very good to experience the reality that we can share that part of ourselves and we can live in the goodness that results. I guess I complain about my community as much as most families complain about themselves and I loose the long term perspective like everyone else. I'm just grateful right now for having stepped deeper into our common life and experienced the goodness and creativity of that.

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