Sunday, August 9, 2020

Resting as a necessary care for one(self) and all

On Tuesday, July 28, we kicked off the centennial year of our St Augustine church by blessing the cornerstone which was laid down in 1920. God willing, we will have a public worship celebration of the centennial of the dedicationof the church in October 2021. A team of monks is also preparing a memorial book for the occasion. This past week, they met with a graphic editor to consider the treasure trove Br. Robert Leo, our archivist, culled from the Order's archives.

Blessing the cornerstone. From top left, clockwise: gathering of monks and alongsiders behind the church: Br. Robert-James reads the prayers; Br. Robert James blesses the cornerstone; as part of the Capital Campaign, air conditioning was installed in the church - the cornerstone is half-hidden behind the converter; Br. Robert James reads the collect.

These unprecedented times take their toll on all of us. No matter how sheltered we may be from the worst consequences of the pandemic, the social upheaval and the economic depression, they affect each and every one of us. Monks in their beautiful monastery in the banks of the Hudson river are not immune to the communal trauma we are living through. Are you also surprised at how fatigued you may feel (regardless of your level of activity).

Recognizing the emotional fatigue that affects most of us, our Superior, Br. Robert James wisely took the unprecedented decision to grant our whole community six days of vacation. Typically, individual monks stagger their vacation throughout the year. The only days of rest we usually have together is our weekly sabbath on Monday. So from Friday, July 30th to the eve of Tranfiguration (Thursday, August 5) we took our communal rest. Our individual prayer continued, of course, but we did not get together in church for corporate worship.

Letting go of our occupations, preoccupations and worries takes some practice. We practice weekly with our sabbath day but this was like a long retreat to explore holy leisure. On Monday, Bros. Aidan and John and I went hiking in Minnewaska State Park. The weather was several degrees cooler up there and was just perfect for a four hour hike. After we got home, I went to visit Sr. Elizabeth Broyles, CMA. The CMA Sisters are our Northern neighbors. We had a socially distanced visit under the shade of a couple of oak trees.

On other days, I have tried to walk some of my daily 10,000 steps outside before it gets too hot. On my walks I often cross the garden of St Mary's House (where Yanick Savain and Matthew Wright live). They have adopted three Rhode Island Red chickens. Those three chickens are loved and cared for like a beloved creature of God that they are. One of the hopes is to collect some humanely produced eggs. I might be tempted to eat some (as an exception to my vegan diet). Sometimes the chickens follow me for a while hoping that I will scatter grain for them to peck on. That's the chicken life!

Resting in God's embrace. From top left, clockwise: Br. Aidan reading in the cool morning hours; The Rev. Matthew Wright having quality time with one of his chcken sisters; one of the Rhode Island Red chicken checking out St Mary's garden; Br. Bernard hosted under the oak tree at the CMA's (our local Mamre).

This coming week, I am enjoying my own vacation. My friends Jamie and Mary are lending me their apartment in Morningside (a neighborhood of Manhattan just South of Harlem). They have done this several years for me while they themselves vacation in Massaschussetts. God bless them! I love NYC and look forward to catching up (socially distanced) with a few friends and generally doing nothing of any productive use.

I hope you have serenity and fortitude to continue caring for yourself and for our fellow human beings in these trying times.

Stay safe, wear a mask, save lives!

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Hard knocks and simple pleasures

I have learned what to call groups of finches; a treasury of goldfinches and a charm of house finches. I saw several treasuries lately! How rich is that? They are like sparkles of bright yellow swooping and rising as they go over our meadow. Below are illustrations of some of the birds I observed lately.

Birds of the Hudson Valley. From top left, clockwise: on osprey guarding its offspring a the top of an abandoned crane in Roundout (picture: Tim Sharpe); (all four other pictures from Cornell's Lab of Ornithology) male osprey; male house finch; goldfinch; dark-eyed junco.


These past two weeks have been hard for me as I try to come to terms with my friend Bruno's suicide. We had known each other fifty-two years (yes we met as little boys in elementary school). He was a concert-level pianist, a music teacher and a choral director (including the children's choir of the Brussels opera - La Monnaie). Despite his struggle with depression in the last several years, I felt like he had several trump cards in his hand to build a new happiness. Friends and family tried to help him overcome the depression. But in the end, the latter won. I try to be a good listener to his close friends and relatives as we share our grief. I pray for him and all his loved ones and loving ones. I miss him and I'm sad/upset/angry at the waste of such a beautiful soul's life potential.


Last weekend, Br. Josép, our Director of Associates, ran a successful first Associates' retreat on zoom. We also streamed several offices that weekend. On the first night, eight of us showed up at Br. Josép's shoulder to say hello and briefly catch-up with our Associates. Many have remarked how happy they were that it happened. The advantage of the on-line format is that people who live faraway from the monastery find it easier to participate.


This past week I attended Carl McColman's online retreat on "The Spanish Mystics." Carl talked about Ignatius of Loyola, Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross. I like Ignatius but the latter two are among my favorites Saints. Carl is a great retreat leader. You can find his retreat on The English Mystics on our YouTube page (you'll need to scroll down a bit to find the three videos).


This past Friday I went kayaking on the Rondout with  my friends Tim Sharpe and Alison Quin (husband and wife team). They had heard I was having a tough time and decided to treat me to some nature therapy. We paddled from the Roundout boat launch to the Kingston Lighthouse (on the Hudson) and back. We saw the Clearwater sloop anchored on the Port Ewen side of the Roundout. It proudly sported a banner to support racial and climate justice. On an ancient crane perched on a half-sunk barge we spotted a couple of ospreys caring for their chicks (the latter only audible, not visible from below). This was a soul-boosting outing. We live in such a beautiful region.

Kayaking on the Roundout. From top left, clockwise: The Rev. Alison Quin and I getting ready to launch; me on the water (twice); me and Alison; a BLM sign under the old 9W bridge; a Racial and Climate Justice banner on the Clearwater sloop.


On Friday night, we had the first meeting (and an in person meeting at that) of our informal book club (members of the extended community who can meet in person because we already live alongside each other). We discussed Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" which we had read in the month leading up to the meeting. I had never read Jane Austen and thoroughly enjoyed the book even though mightily annoyed by the world views of Georgian bourgeoisie. Luckily, Jane Austen keeps it witty and even amusing, at times. This book was Br. Aidan's suggestion.

We are meeting again in a month's time to discuss my suggestion: Colson Whitehead's "Nickel Boys." I have just started it. Don't give me spoilers!


I leave you with pictures of my friend and the last musical clip he shared with me in February. He is playing Debussy's "Suite Bergamasque." He was rehearsing before a concert in February.

My friend Bruno and Jane Austen's book. From top left, clockwise: Bruno visiting his cousin in Barcelona; same; Bruno on the Camino de Compostella; cover of Jane Austen's most celebrated novel.

Summer blessings to you.

Sunday, July 12, 2020

Leisurely monks

The event of the week was our Fourth of July cookout (on the sixth of July which was Monday, our sabbath day). For these cookouts, Br. Josép gets us organized to lay out the table and the buffet. He does the shopping, the cooking and the grilling. And it is gooood!

The weather was good and Br. Aidan got home from visiting his Mom in Virginia just in time for the cookout. He wore his mask and kept the needed distance. He got tested in the next day or so and eventually was found negative. He could then put an end to his quarantine. After his one week visit to his Mom, he's been on an eight day staycation. He gets back to work on Tuesday.

During the week, we had our regular contemplative days from Tuesday to Thursday. I got a lot of prayer, reading and cleaning done.

We now have gotten into a routine of each doing our cleaning chores. The enclosure and the church look spick and span!
Monks at leisure. From top, clockwise: a big attraction of Sunday Movie Night is Br. Josép's pop-corn; Br. Bernard's right ear while watching "Riding in Cars with Boys"; cookout chilling (Bros. Randy and Josép); (Br. Bernard and Yanick Savain in the front); (Bros. Luc and Randy enjoying the food and a cool beer).

Summer blessings to you!