Sunday, November 30, 2008

An Ending, A Beginning and a Thanksgiving

It has come to the point that there is not much left to be said about Mt Calvary in Santa Barbara except "We're working on it." So I expect that after today I won't be devoting this space to that part of our lives, at least for a while. But the voices are being raised wanting (and sometimes demanding) to know what the future is going to be: When will the reconstruction begin? How long will it take? Is it going to look just the same as before? So here's what we know at the present.

For now, the brothers are housed at St Mary's Retreat House in Santa Barbara, with the gracious welcome of the Holy Nativity Sisters. We anticipate that they will be there at least until the first of February. In the meantime we are exploring longer-term options for their housing. Several possibilities have emerged and we need to see what will work best for our life, our ministry and not least, for our now much-reduced finances.

The Mt Calvary site is now fenced off, as the law and the insurance companies require. When the insurance people tell us to go ahead it will be leveled. We are deeply appreciative of the many generous offers to help in the clean-up, but because of the nature of the fire, there really isn't anything left to clean up. The site will be bulldozed, and that is all that will happen for now.

In mid-January the Order's Council will meet with the Superior in Santa Barbara. The Council is an elected body of 5 life-professed brothers who assist the Superior in decision-making, and whose consent is required for most major decisions that are made between the yearly meetings of our Chapter (which is our annual business meeting). At the January meeting we expect to focus on the immediate needs of the Santa Barbara brothers and on issues concerning on-going housing and ministry for them. We expect to know more at that point about the terms of our insurance settlement and the implications of that. We also expect to make plans for the discussions that will take place at Chapter.

In June, Chapter will meet, probably here at West Park, though that isn't quite nailed down yet. Most of the brothers in the Order will be here, including the brothers from Canada and South Africa. At that point we are going to talk seriously about our future. You'll note that I didn't say "the future of Mt Calvary". We are going to need to talk about our whole community and what this fire means for where we are headed and how we want to get there. The future of our ministry on the West Coast and the use of our Santa Barbara property will certainly be an important focal point of the discussions, but we will have lots of wider issues to be looked at; things like who we are and what we want for the living of the monastic life in the future. It is beginning to dawn on us that we are not just at the end of something, but also at an important beginning, or at least at a major transition. I'm told that Rahm Emmanuel says: "You never want to waste a crisis." And we want to use this one well.

We are so grateful for all of the expressions of concern and offers of help. Right now, if you want to do something really important for us, you can pray for us in the next 6 months as we discern the meaning of this event and where God is calling us to be and what we are to do.

And of course this week we had Thanksgiving. It was a wonderful day which we shared, as always, with a nice group of friends and guests. Jim and Scott crafted a liturgy for the day and it included nice singing, a touch of incense, and a time for offering thanks, which was a very moving time when each of the brothers offered the thanks that was in his heart, and then the guests joined us in offering their thanks. Bernard said that he felt about a foot taller when it was over.

Then came the Thanksgiving meal. We told Edward, our chef, to cut back on it somewhat, because we, like so many people at this time, are having to cut back significantly on our expenses. And, as we could have predicted, Edward cut back in the most elegant way imaginable, and the feast was a triumph. Afterwards one of our guests said to me: "I have never in my whole life gone back for a second helping of Brussels Sprouts until today."

But the best moment of Thanksgiving for me was in the evening, after supper, when I walked around outside for a bit and experienced a few moments of the intense and almost magical silence that sometimes comes to this spot on major civil holidays. It was so still: there was no traffic on the highways on either side of the river, no boat traffic, either. It was between the tides and the Hudson River had stilled as well, and its surface was a mirror that reflected not only the lights from the buildings on the other side but also the most brilliant of the stars, and that's something we don't often see. In that profound quiet and beauty was the promise not only of peace but of deep and vigorous life. It was a moment of knowing that God never forsakes us and that God's comfort and strength is there just in reaching out for it.

That is what I will take into the next few months as we begin to discover the path that we are now beginning to walk.

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