Monday, August 31, 2009

Fertile Ground

We spent the weekend up at the Lakehouse again, and the time spent there never fails to amaze me. Always something knew to see, always a different variation on a theme - be it sunlight or mist or rain - and we never grow tired of that music. Standing on the dock and just looking is a contemplative gaze, and has the power to pull the child out of every heart.
The webs were incredible this time, like I've never seen them; dripping with jewels from the all day mist that never seemed to lift on Saturday. I spied an otter for the first time, sifting her way along the coast searching for those funny freshwater mussels. A great blue heron landed by the water's edge and got us all up early to see it. Steve and Ray set sail in the boat at a scandalously early hour and were rewarded with a fly by Bald Eagle, 20 feet over their heads!
Wolf spiders that had everybody staring. The two snakes that were too shy to show themselves on the rocks. Goldfinches undulating overhead, more often heard than seen. And finally, that soft and silent water that laps up on the shore, perpetually inspiring, reflecting and causing reflections sometimes "too deep for words."
A good way to start off another school year.... on this fertile ground, with this reminder that everything speaks to us if we can be still and listen, and look.

Monday, August 24, 2009

This Week's Mission Moment - August 24, 2009

Bad times make good people, as mountainous pressures make diamonds or as fire tempers steel. - Dr. Peter Kreeft

Thursday, August 20, 2009

A Sacred Space - Mary Immaculate Center

From the fall of 1996 to the spring of 1997, I had the absolute grace of spending a year on retreat, high on a hill of over 400 acres of field and forest overlooking the Lehigh Valley. Along with my class and other seminarians from NJ and NY, we were invited "into the deep" of our walk with God; an unprecedented opportunity for silence and reflection, and the time to probe into the mysterious call to priesthood. It was called the "Spirituality Year" and was part of the seminary formation for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
It was a defining year for me, and helped so much in my discernment of God's will for my life. Looking back now as a husband and father, I can see how the moments of quiet and prayer that called me into the seminary in 1993, were now preparing me for the unexpected turn away from a call to priesthood. Men come and go in this discernment, and in my mind it is always a win/win situation. You ask the question head on, you "taste and see," and you grow from the experience, no matter how the end of that discernment spells itself out. To this day, I feed on the formation and the spirit of my time at Mary Immaculate, and St. Charles in Overbrook.
Just a month ago, I heard that Mary Immaculate Center, that place of deep peace and prayer, was closing its doors. The land and all the structures on it, including an incredible chapel built in the 1930's, is up for sale. Needless to say when I read about this transition, it hurt.
Thoreau once said "We need the tonic of wildness... At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature."
I could say the same for the acres of wildness at Northampton, without, in the corn and bean fields and dark woods below the hill, and within, in the shadowy stillness of the chapel in the wee hours of the morning, when only the sanctuary lamp flickered. I could almost hear the Divine Heart beating with an unfathomable love for me.
Last month I called a friend, a classmate who experienced the year with me, and who also felt the call out of the seminary. We came home again to Mary Immaculate, and with me was my wife and baby boy. We spent hours taking pictures and walking the halls, while a heavy rain fell outside and soaked the fields and the trees. The video above is my thanks for the time that I was given at Mary Immaculate. Please pray that it remains somehow untouched, in good hands. In the heart of the Church. We need this "out of the way place," this wilderness for the body and the soul, lest we forget who we are and where we are going.
The most generous choices, especially the persevering, are the fruit of profound and prolonged union with God in prayerful silence. - Pope John Paul II

Monday, August 17, 2009

This Week's Mission Moment

The simple sense of wonder at the shapes of things, and at their exuberant independence of our intellectual standards and our trivial definitions, is the basis of spirituality. - G.K. Chesterton

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Peace Out

"Maintain a spirit of peace and you will save a thousand souls." - St. Seraphim

We just finished a week's vacation in Maine with the family "from the north" - my dad, brother, wife, and two little ones. My brother Sean manages a summer camp "up they'ah" and he took us all on a little pleasure cruise last night. We slipped over the glassy surface of Washington Pond, just as the sun was tipping his hat to the day on the western rim of the world, in a pontoon boat. It was recently "kitted out" with new carpet and new cooshy seats, each equipped with a snazzy drink holder. In essence, it's like taking your living room out for a drive (or float I should say).

Our little guy is just 11 months old now (we can't believe it), and Sean and Amy's little ones are each under 5. Needless to say, the down time for us adults is few and far between. It comes in dribs and drabs, like scattered coins that we're quick to pick up. Last night's cruise, brief as it was, came like a shower of gold.

The kids were strapped, secured, and seated, and under the watchful eyes of five adults. So for a few moments, slipping out across the cool water, we each in our turns could let the mind wander.... Water lapping up on the hull. Wind over the face. Dark pines on the edge of the water. Sunshine peeking through the trees. Sunshine pouring honey on the lake's skyward gaze. A loon in the distance.

The face of my father looking out and up as he held the throttle that muttered bubbly commands to the engine below. And on the deck, quiet submission. For just seconds at a time, a quiet surrender to the peace of the moment.
Then words. Then a laugh or a thought. Then stillness again, and a loving glance at Reality. I heard Rebecca say to our little niece, "Nature is God's book for us to read."
The dance of light on the surface. The cool evening breeze. The clear sky turning deep blue and orange at its edges.
Isn't this what all our work is for? Aren't these quiet movements of the body and soul through the world the moments we treasure? This stillness. This pause. This breathing pace. Not long. Not belabored. They come fast through the dark fields of our space like the Perseids and then they are gone. But the memory stays. The flash, the awe, the wonder of the thing leaves its indelible mark on the soul. And if we're still, open, listening, these fleeting seconds, I believe, can change us. Strengthen us. In the flurry of our work in the "real world" these moments of peace can keep us afloat.

Friday, August 07, 2009

Beauty as Teacher

I've had this article in my treasury of killer quotes from Pope John Paul II for a couple of years now. It shares his thoughts on Beauty and its connection to Truth. In the words of the Lucky Charms mascot, they are magically delicious! Magic in that they break the spell of modern reductionism with the counter-spell of wonder and awe, and the sacramental vision that sees not just dead matter, but the Divine Heart that shapes and holds it in existence.
Chew slowly, and take these gems with you on your vacation! These thoughts came from a letter of the Pope's delivered by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, the Vatican secretary of state at the time, to the Meeting for Friendship Among Peoples. The event was organized by the ecclesial movement Communion and Liberation. The original article can be found here. The weeklong event is attracting hundreds of thousands of people to 131 meetings and conferences, 23 performances and 16 artistic exhibitions on the theme "The Feeling of Things: Contemplating the Beauty."
"The brilliance of contemplated beauty opens the spirit to the mystery of God."
"Beauty has its own pedagogical force to introduce knowledge of the truth effectively. In fact, it leads to Christ, who is the Truth." "Indeed, when love and the search for beauty spring from a dimension of faith, one can penetrate the depth of things and come into contact with the One who is the source of everything that is beautiful." "It is evident that nature, things, people, are able to cause astonishment because of their beauty. How is it possible not to see, for example, in a sunset in the mountains, in the immensity of the sea, in the features of a face something that is attractive and, at the same time, compels one to know more profoundly the reality that surrounds us?" "Truth is perceived in the beautiful, which attracts to itself through the unmistakable fascination that springs from great values. Thus feeling and reason find themselves radically united in an appeal addressed to the whole person. Reality, with its beauty, makes one feel the beginning of the fulfillment and seems to whisper to us: 'You will not be unhappy; the desire of your heart will be fulfilled, what is more, it is already being fulfilled.'" The message points to the Book of Wisdom in the Bible, which reminds us that "from the greatness and beauty of created things their original author, by analogy, is seen" (Wisdom 13:5).

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Get On

Oh this is a poor poor translation of the gift of the man Dave Wilcox and his music.... but behold, through the scratchy, smooshed up digitization of YouTube.... pure gold. I'm using this song for the retreat this weekend in Connecticut. The lyrics are key for so many of us, torn between the war of heart and mind...
...right now I only wish I knew Where all of this is leading to I'm working up the courage As I stand here with your hand in mine And I'm running out of time And my heart says, C'mon let's go And my mind's saying, I don't know And the train is at the station But I'm lost in contemplation And this ticket's only good for just so long I can think about it 'til that train is gone Or just get on

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

I Love This Nun

I'm sure you've had times in your life when you stumbled onto something great, something refreshing, amazing, ennobling, uplifting; something even today you keep going back to for solace or inspiration.... and you don't even remember how you found it in the first place.
One of those treasures for me is Alba's Pizza in Browns Mills, NJ. Just kidding. It's the poems of Jessica Powers, aka Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit. Give yourself a coffee break and soak your weary soul in this one. This is what it's all about! This is why we are here, why we exist! Our souls like mirrors are made to reflect the One, the Only, the Love that shaped the universe. Here's my objective for the day.... reflection, reflection, reflection.... Enjoy...
The Pool of God
There was nothing in the Virgin’s soul
 that belonged to the Virgin –
 no word, no thought, no image, no intent.
 She was a pure, transparent pool reflecting
 God, only God.
 She held His burnished day; she held His night
 of planet-glow or shade inscrutable.
 God was her sky and she who mirrored Him
 became His firmament.

 When I so much as turn my thoughts toward her
 my spirit is enisled in her repose.
 And when I gaze into her selfless depths
 an anguish in me grows
 to hold such blueness and to hold such fire.
 I pray to hollow out my earth and be 
 filled with these waters of transparency.
 I think that one could die of this desire,
 seeing oneself dry earth or stubborn sod.
 Oh, to become a pure pool like the Virgin,
 water that lost the semblances of water
 and was a sky like God. – Sister Miriam of the Holy Spirit (Jessica Powers) ______________________________ The Selected Poetry of Jessica Powers
ICS Publications 2131 Lincoln Road, NE Washington, DC 20002-1199

Monday, August 03, 2009

The Riddle at Twisted Mystics

A couple of years ago, my wife and I were driving from some place to some place else when Five for Fighting's "The Riddle" came on the radio. "Have you heard this one?" she asked. "I don't think so..." Then she smiled, "You're gonna love it." She was right.... Read the rest at the Twisted Mystics Blog