Sunday, June 12, 2011

A Short, Sweet Summary

OHC's 298th Chapter - The assembled monks and a few Holy Cross Companions
West Park, Saturday, June 11, 2011 - picture by Br. Randy Greve (who ran into place, top right)

Chapter is over! It was quite an amazing week. We worked really hard. We prayed hard, as well. We even played some. And we emerged from all of this as a remarkably united, energized, and amazingly well-functioning group of men - brothers.

We agreed to the founding of Holy Cross School in Grahamstown (South Africa). This will be a school under the Order's aegis which will provide high-quality primary education for poor rural children.

This is an outcome of years of work, trying to find a solution to the dreadful educational conditions in the area around our monastery. Schools are seriously sub-standard or completely absent. Over the years we have started a scholarship program, an after-school tutoring program, recreational programs and other things. The outcome has been the realization that the kids are so deprived so early that the only solution is to have a school that will get them early and will have first-class instruction right from the beginning.

We will be operating grades K-3 (actually South Africa calls Kindergarten "Reception", so it will be R-3). We have good advice that if we get them started this far, they will be able to adjust to the excellent schools that can be found in town, and we can see that they are able to continue in those schools through our Scholarship Program. We will support them for as long as they want to remain in school - through college, if that is their goal. Our scholarship program has just had its first students graduate from local universities, so we have a track record there.

The Order has committed to pay for the construction of the school building, and work will begin soon, so that we can have a Grade R and a Grade 1 beginning in January, when the school year starts. We will then add one grade a year until we are operating all 4 years. Classes will be small. Instruction will be first-rate. Equipment will be state of the art. The school is going to be small, because of the small size of the classes, so what we can accomplish will be limited. But we are going to do what we can. We have also committed ourselves to a major capital funds drive which will raise money to finance and endow the school.

The monastery in Grahamstown is named (in the local language) Maria u Mama we Themba, which means Mary, mother of hope. This is one of the ways in which we are determined to offer hope to the poor people who live in the area around us. And without this school, the local kids have very little in the way of hope.

The Order also committed itself to a major building renovation at the monastery here in West Park. This involves installing a new roof on the monastery building (which has needed doing since the day the building was finished in 1967). This will make possible the remodeling of several rooms to provide Assisted Living space for some older brothers, as I described last week. We are finalizing the plans at the present time. We hope we can begin on this project within a few months.

The conversations that led up to these decisions were full of energy and of hope. Passing the actual resolutions took less than an hour. We were extraordinarily united. It was an amazing week!

We also took an afternoon off for a cruise on the Hudson River. It was really fun. You get a totally different perspective when you're down on the river itself.

Monday is a rest day for me. Tuesday is for packing. Wednesday I leave for Kerhonkson, at the foot of the Catskills. When next you hear from me I will be into my Sabbatical.

I deeply appreciate the many good wishes and promises of prayer that so many people have sent. I hope before long to be letting you in on what life is like for a monk on the loose.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

In Between

Andrew preached this morning on this being an "in between" Sunday - in between Ascension and Pentecost - and of the difficulty of getting in touch with the identity of this day. As it happens, that was something that was good to hear for me, because I'm in a very in between time myself.

I'm still in charge, but nearly everything has been passed on, so there's nothing to be in charge of, except to be the one who indicates when the silence at the end of readings is over. And it's been about 40 years since I have haven't been in charge of something.

It's disorienting, and I have become easily distracted, so I'm now finding at regular intervals that I've made the wrong decision or given the wrong signal for something to happen. It's embarrassing, but the community corrects me gently, and we go on our way. And it won't last long: about 10 days now.

I remember that I reacted in much the same way in 1982 when my time as Novice Master ended and I went to be Prior of our house in South Carolina, only I had fewer years on me then, and somewhat more grace with which to handle the confusions of the time. But as I told people at that time, some of these things are simply not under my control. My body and my mind are making this change at their own pace, and I have a limited amount to say about that.

And there is comfort in knowing that the change is happening, even if I'm not causing it. I'm making the adjustment that needs to be made, and it's happening surely and steadily. It's nice to know that it doesn't all depend on my skillful or unskillful decisions. My mind has its own sense of timing, and I have to trust that sense.

In the midst of all of this there was a small wonder dropped into our midst. In the middle of the week we came out from lunch one day and someone said that there was a fawn on the lawn over by the monastery building, so a small bunch of us headed in that direction.

Just by the monastery building the grass was quite high. Our groundsman had fallen behind in his mowing because of the difficulty of getting a heavy mower into parts of our grounds which had become water logged in the recent rains. So we passed beyond the stone wall just outside the door to our Church and went through thigh-high grass and there, just in the middle of the lawn, was a very small, perfectly circular nest, and lying in it was a tiny deer, looking at us with huge eyes, and lying perfectly still - so still that it was hard to tell if it was actually breathing.

It was really beautiful, and quite awesome, and there she was, all by herself. And where was the mother? Well, as ordinary urban Americans, most of us had no idea where she was. But one of the brothers went off to find out from the source of all knowledge these days; the InterNet. And he discovered that when a doe has given birth she makes a little nest for her offspring and then goes away for an extended period. This apparently is the safest way for the newborn to survive. The mother is feeding so she can produce milk to feed it, and she is not drawing attention to the fawn while it is helpless. It is nearly scentless because she has licked it thoroughly clean before she leaves, so it is usually quite safe, since the nest is usually not visible in the high grass where does prefer to leave their fawns. Who would have guessed?

The newborn, of course, doesn't like this kind of treatment, so the doe usually has to put her foot down - literally - on the infant and roll it up in a ball and force it to stay down, and then she goes off. But the fawn has some sense of what's good for it, because it stayed quite still and unmoving while we were there.

We were careful to stay fairly far away and to be there for only a short time. Rafael, whose room looks out on that patch of lawn, said that he saw the fawn get up to stretch in the middle of the afternoon, and then it laid back down, and from most of our windows it was quite invisible. By the next morning it was gone, so both it and the mother are no doubt wandering about in the woods by now, and the next time we see them, the baby will be much larger.

I like the idea that the mother thought that a really good, safe place to put her newborn would be some tall grass about 15 feet away from one of our buildings. The local wildlife is generally pretty tame, because they know they face no danger from us or our guests. But this is evidence of just how safe they feel. Either that, or there is a shortage of tall grass this year, and that certainly doesn't appear to be the case.

While we're speaking of the wildlife, one of our guests saw a bear yesterday afternoon, ambling placidly across the lawn. You never know.

I certainly appreciate the good wishes from so many of you for my sabbatical and the expressions of appreciation for the blog. It does feel at this point like I will be continuing it, but I want to wait until I actually get into my new situation and have some time to feel what that's like before I make a decision. I'll also need to see what my rhythm is and when the best time to write would be because, as I've said, I'll be away from my house on Sunday mornings and not able to do it then. But I won't be dropping the blog suddenly in any case, and will give some notice about any changes.

That being said, I don't know when my next post will actually be. Next Sunday we'll be in the midst of our Chapter - which is the annual business and planning meeting of the Order, so I won't be free to do my usual writing. I'll try to get a note in to let you know what the situation is. I move a week from Wednesday, so my life will be unsettled for a couple of weeks now, but I'll be back with news of what's up when I'm able to do it.