Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Prophet Jeremiah and worn-out shoes

Today I began reading THE CLOISTER WALK by Kathleen Norris. Ms. Norris, a Benedictine Oblate (click here for details on oblates), chronicles her time in a Benedictine Abbey and her journey toward oblation. Although I've only just begun, this journal/meditation is a page-turner.

I was particularly shocked out of my reading by Ms. Norris' account of the monks collectively reading lectio continua; reading entire books of the Bible at once rather than the piecemeal chapter and verse we're used to; this preserves the continuity of the author and captures the poetic/oral tradition that animates the Benedictine charism.

The monks were listening to the Book of Jeremiah. The prophet states in chapter 2 verse 25, "Stop wearing out your shoes." Like being shocked by that cool sweet water from Smallwood Falls, I was awake. Ms Norris goes on to comment:
"This was something the crusty desert father might have said to a recalcitrant young monk who thought some other monastery might suit him better...In a society that has become alarmingly mobile, where retreats and spirituality workshops have become such a hot consumer item, one wonders if seeking the holy has become an end in itself." (pg 34)

I immediately thought of the off-ramps my own spiritual path has taken here and there over the years, but especially recently. What am I looking for...really...when I say I wish to understand God as others (non-Christians) understand God? I mean, I've been down this road before many times, but always feeling guilty, always haphazardly, without a map, without a home base, and without a good pair of shoes. As long as I can remember, I looked into alternate spiritualities like Buddhism, Judaism and (gasp!) Paganism, with the idea I was doing something wrong, something exotic, something dangerous. After scratching the surface (read a book or 2, haunt a few message boards) and finding real people, with real beliefs, real faith, and yes, real problems, I'd become disillusioned. Then I'd retreat to safe, Catholic Christianity until I felt like being "bad" again.

Seeking the holy has indeed become the end and thus far it's left me cold.

Perhaps if I truly engage these faiths and the people who practice them, I will do better. Perhaps seeking the holy needs to be the means rather than the end. Perhaps - without the inner pretense of being "exotic" - and from my own lens as a faithful Catholic, I can actually see something worth seeing and learn something worth learning. Ecumenism isn't be about ditching your date for the tantalizing girl and her man who just sauntered into the hall; you dance with the one who brung ya (and Christ Crucified certainly 'brung' me!). However, we certainly can all sit down at table between dances and talk about who we are and how we got here. As Brothers and Sisters.

Thank you Jeremiah!

Daily Mass Readings
Micah 5:1-4
Psalm 13:6a-c
Matthew 1:1-16,18-23

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Waterfalls and boulders

Sometimes even a routine weekend can surprise.

We were up at my in-laws summer house outside of Monticello, NY, in a hamlet called Smallwood. Going up to the "country house" is sort of fall-back position for us on summer weekends. It's not that we don't have a good time up there - we do. When we're not working with Lori's dad on this or that construction project (the man has done wonders with what had been a dilapidated cabin 12 years ago), we can go swimming in the lake or the pool, cruise the dozens of flea markets great and small. On a number of occasions, we've visited the Museum at the Bethel Center for the Arts (site of the original Woodstock festival...peace, man!)

Sometimes it all starts to taste like chicken after awhile if you know what I mean.

This past weekend had been a little strained. My in laws had taken the boys up on Thursday, and Lori and I followed after I left work on Friday. Additionally, Lori's cousins cameup with their three daughters, all loud and full of fizz as all kids under 10 are, but the crowding wasn't it. Everyone, including me, just seemed to be surly; snapping at each other rather than enjoying the holiday weekend.

As I was packing to get the heck out of there on Monday, Lori's mom said she was taking the boys for a walk near the lake; one of the neighbors was going to show them where the "Smallwood Falls" was located. Now, we'd been coming up to Smallwood since 1997 when my in laws bought the cabin. I thought I'd seen all that was worth seeing. We'd heard the neighbors mention "the falls" here and there; I expected they were talking about some stagnant little man-made stream that generally trickled in a downward direction. I even thought I knew the stream they were talking about, and I mentally scoffed at every mention of the mighty "falls".

So the boys were going to see the falls, huh? Good for them, I thought, and continued packing, more than a bit anxious to leave this weekend behind.

About a half hour later, Lori's mom called on the cell. She sounded very lighthearted and said that Lori and I just HAD to come down. She did not elaborate beyond the directions (although we had to call back 2 or 3 times to clarify said directions...not Ma's strong point).

We finally pulled up to our destination. After getting out of the van, the first thing I heard was the water. Not the steady trickle of a stagnant stream. No this was the constant bubbling and rumbling of water over rock. A lot of both. Lori and I walked to a clearing in the woods where Ma stood. She smiled as we walked past her. There under the canopy of the maples and evergreens was...Smallwood Falls.

There were dozens of huge, almost neolithic looking boulders, festooned with bright-green moss. No direct sunlight penetrated; we were enveloped by midday shade. It was cool enough that none of the stinging and biting flies made their usual nuisance. The rapidly running (and surprisingly clean and clear) water rushed over three shelves of the aforementioned boulders. I saw my children on the second level of the Falls, fascinated and excitedly intent on what there were doing; James was attempting a little dam made of leaves at a narrow point. Patrick was sailing twig after twig into the rapids and watching the rough-tumble course of each as they shot through the current. My hearts swelled with love and pride as I watched them.

Lori settled down on a boulder and gazed over the scene. I walked up, past the third level to the side of the rushing stream. The ground beneath my feet had a bit of give; layers upon layers of leaves and pine needles. There was a slight crunch to each step. I also noticed the sound quality was...different is the only way I could put it. At one point the water would almost deafen, a couple of yards away from the bank and there was a strange echo. There was something larger than me here...and yet I...we...were all a part of it.

On impulse, I rushed to the bank near one of the ledges of the Falls. The water, incredibly clear, looked inviting. I got down on my knees and cupped my hands under the torrent. I was SO cool, so clear! I washed my hands clean, and splashed the water onto my face...Bliss! Cupping my hands under this natural faucet, I gulped down a miracle-tinged swallow of the water and was satisfied. I was at peace. And the toxins of the weekend left me.

We left, bound for home later that day. Weekend salvaged! I'll try to get some pics up soon!

Sister Water, Brothers Rock and Tree, thank you for your presence.


Daily Mass Readings
1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Psalm 149:1-6,9
Luke 6:12-19