Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Aftermath

I'm back now, having been for a number of days at a meeting of the Order's Council in Santa Barbara and then taking some time off with friends in Kansas City. I've finished getting the Incense orders dealt with and am now coping with the pile of stuff that accumulated on my desk during the couple of weeks that I was gone. Not too bad this time.

As I thought about what this period of time had meant for me it was clear that Mt Calvary and the fire and the future were most clearly on my heart and in my memories. On the first day of our meeting we went up to the site of Mt Calvary to see it for ourselves. I'm looking for a word to describe the experience and having trouble coming up with something. It's hard, even now, to remember standing in those ruins and thinking of something that will explain what I saw and felt. So I guess that "unthinkable" is the right word. Bright sunshine, deep blue sky, warm, gentle breezes. And an occasional piece of wall; various objects of metal, the foundation into which the remains of stuff had fallen - that's what I remember. And I remember other things as well; a pot that once held a plant, sitting bright and blue beside one of the paths; the remains of some of the library scattered around the parking lot (how did those books survive?); little green shoots beginning to emerge from the hedges and the gardens and the lawn.

And black - black as far as you can see if you stand and look to the East, which is the direction from which the fire came. And bare. And to the west a bit of burned scenery giving way to the city of Santa Barbara, lush and untouched, right at our feet. We were so close to the edge of the damage. I hadn't realized how we almost escaped.

We were told that the estimate is now that the fire burned at about 3,000 degrees and probably lasted just about 3 minutes. Such power, so fast. And that helps to explain the little tricks that fires like this always play. There, several hundred feet below us, was a little oasis where the house had burned to the ground, but the trees and plants around it were alive and green. And up above us, near the peak of the mountains, was a spot where the ground was bare and desolate but a house had survived. And of course the artist's studio on our own property, just a few feet away from all the destruction, is completely whole, except for some cracked and broken windows on the side from which the fire came. Roy's calligraphy supplies survived there, and he's now at work in a studio that the Franciscans at the Santa Barbara Mission have graciously supplied for him, and Joseph is at work on his icons again. Nick hasn't resumed playing his cello yet - it's too soon.

We stood at the edge of the ruins and prayed: we gave thanks for the years of life and ministry there, and asked for openness and guidance for the future. It was good to do that. It was also good to walk away afterward.

I did realize one thing while I stood there; I realized that for me the view from that ridge is just a view. It's a world-class view, of course - how else can you describe being able to see 50 miles up and down the California coast and just as far out to sea? But Mt Calvary framed that view for me. The view was extraordinary because of the life of that place; the friendships shared, the rhythm of prayer that gave the house its special feel, countless meals eaten with our guests and with each other; silences kept in company with groups of people or with one or two others, or alone. Without the monastery the view is certainly very nice, but its meaning is mostly gone for me. I hadn't expected that detachment.

The next day several enormous machines moved in to clear the property. Now it's just a level field. For two days we could look far up from the foot of the mountain and see that tiny site and catch occasional glimpses of the huge machines moving back and forth. That was enough. I didn't need to be closer.

Then we moved to planning for the future. We began the process of considering the resources we will have available - financial, personnel, interests, energy. We poured over reports and dreamed dreams, and we made arrangements for a committee that will plan the meeting of our Chapter in June at which we will work at making the decisions that now must shape our lives for the next era in the life of Holy Cross. We're exploring the possibilities for a lease of St Mary's Retreat House that might carry us through the immediate future. It would give us a place to be and a ministry to exercise and would ensure us a continuing presence in Southern California. We should have news of that in the near future, but for now we are still working on it.

We worked hard, and at the end of the week I was quite astonished at how exhausted I was. Long meetings always require a lot of energy, and for one that took place in the context of so much emotional agenda, this one was even more demanding on the energies of a 70 year old. The other members of Council said the same thing. We worked well together, and we were pleased at how we gave ourselves to the task. And it took all we had. Then my Kansas City friends gave themselves to the task of helping me rest and recover.

As I was working on this post, Bernard stuck his head through the door of my office and said: "I hear the sound of blogging!" It's nice to be back to my accustomed Sunday morning task.

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