Sunday, June 29, 2008

The Rest of the News

There is some additional news to add to what I wrote about last week. During the week of Chapter we had two deaths in the Order - the first time in our history that two brothers have died in the same week. Br Michael Stonebraker and Br Bernard van Waes had both spent many of their years here at West Park, but neither was living in this monastery at the time of his death.

Michael was widely known throughout the Episcopal Church. He was one of the generation of the "mission brethren". He traveled the United States, as so many of our monks did for many decades, giving retreats, parish missions and conferences and he was known by nearly everyone who knew anything about Holy Cross.

Michael had two great passions in his life: youth work and pipe organs. His father was an organ builder and he grew up learning the craft. He played the organ all his life (quite an accomplishment for a man with only one arm!) and knew, it seemed, every organ and every organist in the Episcopal Church. He helped design the tracker organ which was in our monastery church until last year, when it finally had to be replaced. He also gave himself whole-heartedly to work with young people. For years he was a regular on the campus of St James school in Hagerstown, Maryland. He also was Director of Christian Education at St James Cathedral in Toronto during his time at the Priory there. He developed a relationship with the Diocese of Olympia in the state of Washington, and summer after summer returned to provide programming for the camping program of that Diocese. Their camp is now named Camp Michael in his honor. He had an enormous effect on this lives of countless children and teens.

With his devotion to the Order's work and ministry Michael also carried a great deal of difficulty with living the community life. One of his arms had been lost at the time of his birth and as is often true of males with physical disabilities, he carried a great deal of barely suppressed anger, It was, of course, his family - in this case, his community - that felt the brunt of much of his anger. He was a very large man, and heavy anger from such a source is never easy to handle, and that was certainly true of our community. At several points in his life Michael lived apart from us, and much of his later years were spent living in Seattle and continuing his beloved ministry there. When financial and health pressures forced his return to West Park he came with great grace and determined to be a real member of the community. But it was not to be. Barely two months after his return here he was hospitalized with a crisis caused by his diabetes and he never returned to the monastery. He lived for several years at Ferncliff Nursing Home in Rhinebeck, across the river from us. He was in regular contact with us and for as long as he could he returned here for the big feasts of the year. But the past year was one of great decline for him, and he died in Kingston Hospital, just minutes after some of the brethren who were here for Chapter had visited with him and prayed with him.

Br Bernard was another man with many talents who was never fully able to find his place in the community life. Bernard had great artistic talents. There are a number of his water colors and his pen and ink sketches around the house here and in other houses of the Order, and they betray a great sensitivity and a careful eye. He was also a devoted student of the writings of Thomas Merton, and was particularly interested in the relationship that Merton developed with the Shakers. He did some writing on the subject, but the book that the worked on for years was never published.

None of us knew the man that Bernard was before World War II. We only knew the person who was touched, and changed, by battle. The chief event of his life, as he told it, was the day that half of the bridge of the ship on which he was stationed was blown away, taking with it his best friend, who was standing next to him at the time. No one had heard of Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome at the time (though we knew about "Shell Shock") nor was there any thought that anything could be done about it. And as with Michael, the community was often the focus of Bernard's chaotic emotional life.

Bernard was not a great missioner, and his ideal was the contemplative life, and he lived a fairly withdrawn life wherever he was. He was here at West Park for some time and then spent about 15 years in the Priory in Berkeley, where he finally found some treatment for his PTSD and gained a measure of inner peace. He suffered from cancer for nearly 20 years, and the community was continually amazed at how long he managed to survive. His last few months were spent at Mount Calvary in Santa Barbara, where he was cared for most lovingly by some of the younger brethren there. He was touched by deep joy in these months, and so were the brothers who looked after him. Some of his creativity returned at this time, and the end of his life was happy. In his dying he gave some wonderful gifts to us. He was in Hospice care at the end of his life and he died just days after being transferred to a residential facility in Santa Barbara.

Contrary to the projections often sent in our direction, the monastic life is no ideal state, freed from the conflicts that everyone else in life faces, and I do my best not to hide either the joys or the trials of our life in this column. These two brothers were greatly talented and marvelously accomplished human beings and many people were genuinely transformed by their ministries. They also had lives that were deeply marked with hostility, anger and chaos, and both they and the community bore those marks as well. All of this we carried through the days of their dying and as we sang the Office of the Dead for each of them, and we carried their lives, and ours, to the altar at the Requiem Eucharists for them. Michael's funeral was done here at West Park in the presence of his community. Bernard's funeral will be July 14 in Santa Barbara. The ashes of both of these brothers will be laid to rest in the columbarium here at West Park where most of the departed members of our community rest. And of course stories will be told about them for many, many years.

May they rest in peace, and rise in glory.

7 comments:

Richard said...

Who will lay bare your dirty laundry for the entire world to read when you head off to your eternal reward, Bede?

joel said...

Prior Bede shows a community of Grace AS IS...and not through the lenses of I WISH. There is only God's laundry in my book.

Br Bede Thomas Mudge OHC said...

So there we have it - these comments present the two views of how a persons story should be told. In fact, I was feeling a deep appreciation of both of our brothers as I wrote their story - an appreciation of what they accomplished and of what they had to struggle with, as well as what the community had to deal with. When I head off, I hope whoever writes about me will tell the truth - not a prettified account. I've also accomplished a good deal, and have provided my share of difficulties for the community. All of that is part of the story, and for me it's one of Holy Cross' strong points that when we tell a story we tell it warts and all. For instance, see Adam McCoy's history of our Order entitled "Holy Cross, A Century of Anglican Monasticism."

Susan and Rufus Rhoades said...

Dear Brother Bede,

My husband and I do not know you, but we do want you to know how deeply hurt we were to read your comments about Brother Bernard van Waes. We would like to speak of the Bernard we knew and loved.

Brother Bernard was the best and the brightest. Bernard was kind, thoughtful,well educated,funny,clever and generous.

Notwithstanding all that he endured,he lived his life with Grace and died with Grace.

Rest in peace dearest B. knowing how much you were loved on earth and are loved in Heaven.

We will never forget the twinkle in your eyes.

Susan and Rufus Rhoades

Krystal Knapp said...

I did not interpret Bede's comments as laying bare dirty laundry or depicting someone in a negative light, and Bede mentioned their talents as well as shortcomings. I read about the brothers in a loving way, a way that depicted two men who struggled like we all do in our own way. They continued to live lives of faith and hope in an imperfect community, despite it all. That is the greatest faith there is, faith in spite of it all. Such stories inspire me and give me comfort and hope. They are a welcome antedote to the prosperity and positive thinking narrative that is so popular today ala Joel Olstein. Keep it honest and real, Bede.

Karen Lea Siegel said...

It would be disingenuous to pretend that a recently deceased loved one had no flaws. We all have flaws. It is well for us all to remember that God loves us regardless, and - as St. Paul reminds us - uses our least respectable parts, our weaknesses and failings, to manifest his grace and power all the more.

bob said...

Well, around 30 years ago I was chatting with Br. Michael, and the topic of his arm came up. He laughed heartily about how many people over the years had decided they *had* to comment on it. He said they usually thought it was best to say something like "Oh, your poor mother!". He said "My mother is a great lady! She's fine! What's she got to do with this?!" I was told he also would object to motions being counted in the brotherhood by raising the right hand...He also told of being at a camp where the kids were very concerned that he might not be able to swim with them safely? Relax, he told them, I just swim in circles. Well, in short, not the picture of bad temper, but maybe the Prior was closer to him.
Or maybe a good deal *further*? May Christ our God remember him in His Kingdom. I have nothing but fond memories of him, and am grateful for having known him. I was lucky to see him just 2 years ago, along with the priest he worked with on Vashon Island. Now both have died. Rare ones.