Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Travelled ten thousand miles in the last week on business related stuff. First to Guam, then Saipan, and then to San Francisco. Just got back home today and it feels great to be back in Paradise where its warm and I can sleep in my own bed.

Not complaining at all though! What an incredible trip. Met with an Episcopal priest on Saipan, a professor of Social Work from University of Guam, participated in a town hall on Saipan, and then a planning meeting in San Fran with other homeless coordinators.

This is an amazing time to be working on behalf of homeless veterans and to be involved with so many creative and energetic people who want to solve homelessness amongst veterans by 2015. The will and determination is impressive. We are trying to get veterans off the street and housed all across the Neighbor Islands.

Proud to be part of the VISN 21 Homeless Team!!!

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Chaminade University volunteers

Wanted to take a minute to thank the many volunteers who came out from Chaminade on a sunny, Sunday afternoon, to help feed the homeless! Kudo's to you for taking time from your busy schedules.

It was wonderful to see so many young, smiling faces, and to get to speak to a number of you. Several of you expressed how grateful you felt in being able to provide something as simple as food and water for others. Sharing with others in need is a tender and compassionate response, and I hope you each had a similar positive experience, See you again next month and have a great Thanksgiving!

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mental illness and the church

A week ago this past Sunday, we had a rather unsual event take place after our church service. One of our homeless guests decided to climb to the top of one of the buildings across from where we have our afternoon feeding. Not good! I was able to get a picture of our climber as he neared the top of the building which must have been 15 stories of so high. He's a very fortunate young person, and that he didn't kill himself. There are many other sounds that I'd like to hear other than than police sirens and fire trucks!

I don't know this persons name and I have no idea why he did what he did. I can only surmise that he was on drugs (methamphetamine) or had a mental illness or both. I thought about this for several hours that afternoon and the event gave me pause to think about the prominence of mental illness which exists in our community, in the nation, and yes in the church. Moreover, I began asking myself what unique and specific role the church can play in helping the discussion on mental illness.

The facts are that approximately 25% of the general population are going to experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime. Yes that's one in four folks and higher numbers than we typically think. And by mental illness, I mean anxiety, depression, and PTSD just to name a few. And here's the extra rub, that percentage will be reflected in every churches congregation as well as the clergy who reflect the general population.

In our age of "self-disclosure", I think churches can play a signficant role in stepping up and leading the way to help us reframe our national discussion on mental illness. By speaking about mental illnesses publically, faith-based communities can help normalize many of the misconceptions which so often surround mental health issues. By speaking openly about mental illnesses, churches will promote healing and normalization of many people's experiences. And isn't this one of the tasks that  churches are to be doing-being centers of "truth-telling" where people can come and share their stories and struggles. Sounds like the gospel to me!

Two years ago, I had the opportunity to visit several churches and bring along some people who spoke  about what it was like to have children with mental illness. It was heart wrenching to hear their stories of loss when they realized their children would be very different than other children. I was also moved by the additional strength and meaning they found in their efforts to make sense of it all, and from the hope they gained in seeing others-including their own children-get well with professional help and often medication. It's this kind of "truth-telling" that can make churches a special place, a place of love and of total acceptance. And where else can one go?

We who minister to the homeless, to the hungry, and to those with mental illness, witness these simple graces all the time. This past Sunday gave me an opportunity to talk about mental illness and to remind our group not to get any ideas from our building climber. I remarked that if they want to climb something, look at the walls they may have put around others, or from outside professional help. Beginning there, is a great place for anyone to start.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Homeless in Honolulu

This past Wednesday I was part of a panel that discussed the topic of homelessness in Honolulu. The event took place at St. Andrews Episcopal Cathedral and included Connie Mitchell from the Institute of Mental Health Homeless Shelter; Marc Alexander, the State's Homeless Coordinator, and Dorothy Hine from the Waikiki Health Center.

The event provided a wonderful opportunity to address the issues of homeless and some of the discusion looked at the role that the church should play with the homeless. The State of Hawaii has advocated that faith based groups ceased feeding the homeless in parks and instead center their volunteer efforts at shelters such as IHS and the Lighthouse. I commented that St. Aidan's ministry is somewhat different in that we have a service first,  and that the feeding takes place on the grounds of St. Andrews. In addition, it was noted that a growing number of the folks who come to the 2pm feeding (typically around 200) can be described as the "hidden" homeless, that is, those who are on the verge of becoming homeless, and who typically live paycheck to paycheck. I also noted that with now one in six Americans in poverty, and one in five having some kind of mental illness, the church could/should play a significant role in helping people to find their way to healing and wholeness. The Celtic Church historically has always tried to welcome "the stranger" and those who are "searching". Many of us feel that we are providing a meaningful service to a disenfranchised group of people who for the most part are rejected by the cultural mainstream. Our Celtic tradition also reminds us that we find God in the face of the stranger, which is one of the reasons we believe in a ministry of hospitality.

There were approximately 70-75 people in attendance including some homeless people. In conclusion, I felt it was a wonderful forum, a wonderful start to a very difficult and complex social issue. I hope that we could have continued discussions on this topic.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Gaelic Blessing by John Rutter

Been listening to some of John Rutter's music of late. I've identified a few of Rutter's pieces I like best, and one is "Gaelic Blessing" or "Deep Peace".
Here are the words:

Deep peace of the running wave to you
Deep peace of the flowing air to you
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you
Deep peace of the shining stars to you
Deep peace of the gentle night to you
Moon and stars pour their healing light on you
Deep peace of Christ, of Christ
The light to the world to you
Deep peace of Christ to you

And now listen to the music by the Cambridge singers.

Great stuff to start and end the day.

The link is here.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Homelessness in Hawaii

I had the chance a few weeks back to meet with Secretary Donovan (from HUD), who is on the President's Cabinet; Hawaii's two senators; Senators Akaka and Inouye; Governor Neil Abercrombie, and Mayor Carlise of Honolulu, to discuss homeless veterans. I've included a picture of myself with Senator Akaka and Secretary Donovon.

It's fantastic that folks at such high levels of the government are so deeply committed to the issues of homeless veterans. In addition, I was very impressed just how knowledgable and concerned they were with the veterans and curious to know what specific actions are being undertaken to help get veterans off the street. Makes me proud to be an American.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

St. Romuald's Brief Rule

Sit in your cell as in paradise;
put the whole world behind you and forget it;
like a skilled angler on the lookout for a catch
keep a careful eye on your thoughts.

The path you follow is in the psalms-dont' leave it.
If you've come with a novice's enthusiasm and can't
accomplish what you want, take every chance you can find
to sing the psalms in your heart and to understand them
with your head; if you mind wanders as you read
don't give up but hurry back and try again.

Above all realize that you are in God's presence;
hold your heart there in wonder as if before your sovereign.

Empty yourself completely;
sit waiting, content with God's gift,
like a little chick tasting and eating nothing
but what its mother brings.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Incarnation Monastery, Berkeley

"The deeper the contemplative communion, the wider the embrace in solidarity. Solitude teaches us, after all, that we are really brothers and sisters of the same family. This is the great gift that the "monk within" offers the world-human solidarity, universally expressed in communion with God. And a great irony rest within this gift. Authentically lived, monastic solitude breaks through human barriers  of isolation and speak a silent word of universal love and solidarity with all life".
The Language of Silence (2003) Peter-Damian Belisle

On this blog you have heard me mention the importance of having regular "retreats" or "quiet times" where one can reflect on their own spiritual journey. Taking "time outs" like these are wise things to do. Last week, I had the opportunity to stay at Incarnation Monastery (IM) in Berkeley, California. The monastery-actually a retreat house-is located  up a long steep road, some twenty five minutes by foot from downtown Berkeley. Far from the madding hustle and bustle of the famous University and city.

My visit to IM was not what I expected it to be which in fact was a good thing. Life is never what we think, is it? IM is a Benedictine monastery, however a branch of the Benedictine tradition called the Camaldolese who emphasize contemplation, silence and solitude. The Camaldolese are in fact a fascinating offshoot of the Benedictines, who have an interesting story. The founder, St. Romulad (1027) sought to develop a stricter brand of the Benedictine order, one which was more hermitic instead of cenobitic (or communal).  A unique feature of a Camaldolese monastery is the emphasis on quiet-a challange for most of us noisy people who live our lives in the busy world. I must confess the stress on "silence" takes some getting used to and is a challenge for those of us who co-exist with iPADS, cell phones and blogs! Yet as the minutes, hours and days progressed, the silence begins to perform its wonderful work. For example, I began questioning whether I needed these technical toys.  I was starting to enjoy the solitude and time to read "In Praise of Hiddenness", a study on soltiude. On the downside, efforts to communicate verbally seemed awkward and clumsy. 

One of the gems of the monastery is Fr. Thomas Matus, a Camaldolese monk who has written several books about Bede Griffiths, and who also had the opportunity to worked in India at Shantivanam. Mathus's "Bede Griffiths Essential Writings" is an excellent and challanging book which is an anthology of one of the most remarkable Christian figures of the last century. I enjoyed this encounter and am looking forward to reading some of Fr. Mathus's other books and useful clips on YouTube.

Monasteries are also wonderful places to meet other people. I want to take a shout out to Leonard Capozzi who I met at the monastery. Leonard is a great person, deeply spiritual and insightful. I enjoyed having the chance to speak with Lenny about his spiritual experience and admire his desire to live to live an authentic, meaningful Christian life, and to live according to the Benedictine Rule. Thanks for your kindness!  I've included a photo of Leonard above.

So in all, going to IM was useful for several reasons. One, helping me to stay within the riches of the Benedictine tradition with the emphasis on silence, discipline, and focus. And second, to have the opportunity to meet such interesting and lovely people as Fr. Mathus and Lenny Capozzi.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Hildegard von Bingen: A Woman of Vision

Vision is a wonderful film about the life of the 12th century Benedictine nun, Hildegard von Bingen. von Bingen was a woman well ahead of her time, a maveric in every positive sense of that word. She was multi-talented; a Christian mystic, writer, composer, naturalist, herbalist and ecological activist.

Each time I hear that name, "Hildegard von Bingen", I am reminded that I first learned about this unique woman in a monastic setting, at the Order of the Holy Cross, West Park, New York. How fitting was that and yet how appropriate! A personal reminder of the great religious and spiritual writers who have come from monastic settings. This German film does a fantastic job in introducing one of the fascinating religious mystics of her time and ours.

Born almost a thousand years ago (that's right a thousand years), von Bingen remains a person who seems well ahead of her time. Surprisingly von Bingen's life, themes, and interests seem strangely modern and resonate to us moderns. The film demonstrates how with courage von Bingen was able to challenge church rules and found several convents. She was also a theologian who loved books and learning. Some of the titles of von Bingen's books are "Know the Paths of the Lord", "The Healing Power of Nature", and "The Book of Divine Works". von Bingen was also a scientist and herbalist. She was also a composer and her music is wonderful and hanuting-again ahead of her time. And just as the title Vision indicates, von Bingen also had "visions" of God and the future.

Vision is an important film for several reasons. Here you will be introduced to a unique and passionate Christian mystic. Second, you will have the opportunity to learn about a fascinating and profound woman who seemed well ahead of her time and even ours. Third, you will be introduced to von Bingen's main ideas and some of her music. Fourth, you will have the chance to learn something about the Benedictine way and tradition. Fifth, you will understand that von Bingen also is within the Celtic tradition. von Bingen warned that we needed to protect Nature and that if we mistreated "the elements", it could turn against us. 

I've included a link here where you can see clips from the movie and listen to some of von Bingen's music.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Celtic Fire

"In every church and monastery of Celtic Britain and Ireland a fire was kept burning, day and night, summer and winter, as a sign of God's presence...While the rest of Europe was entering a dark age of conflict and division, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Christian gospel was lighting the hearts of the rugged Celtic tribesman, and thousands upon thousands of simple men and women became monks and missionaries, poets and pilgrims, ablaze with the love of Christ" (1-2).

Celtic Fire is a wonderful book, and a fine introduction to Celtic Christianity. The book contains a selection of writings from ancient Britain and Ireland and is skillfully presented by the Revd. Robert Van De Weyer, an Anglican priest who has written often on Celtic themes.

Celtic Fire begins with a sparkling 25 page essay providing readers with an overview of some of the uniqueness features of Celtic Christianity including the Druids, Desert Fathers, and the theology of Pelagius. The bulk of the book contains an anthology which highlights many of the famous people and literature in Celtic Christianity. For example, there are hagiographical sections which include the Confession of Patrick, the voyage of St. Brendan, Aidan, Hilda, and others. The "highlites" of their lives are presented and are well worth reading.

Another section contains some the better known prayers generated the Celtic saints. It's evening now as I write and let me recite a prayer entitled "Covering the Fire":

Lord, preserve the fire, as Christ preseves us all. Lord, may its warmth reamin in our midst, as Christ is always among us. Lord, may it rise to life in the morning, as we shall rise with Christ to eternal life." (147).

I love these kind of prayers and it reminds of just how tied to Nature and the Seasons of Life the Celts were. We moderns seem to have lost these  kinds of attachments.

One of the most interesting sections in Celtic Fire is the latter part of the book which shares some unique Celtic literary devices. A popular Welsh literary form was the "gnome" a maxim which was preceded by an unrelated image. Reading them, I am reminded of Zen "koans". Let me share a few:

"Red is the cock's comb, and loud his voice. God praises man when man praises God".

"Delightful are the tops of gorse bushes, their blossom reflects the brightness of the sun. None can know the truth except God".

The Irish also had some unique literary devices. A "triad", or mnemonic, was used to express moral and spiritual truths. I find these to be very clever and witty and its easy to picture monks dreaming up these pithy sayings.

"Three sources of new life: a woman's belly, a hen's egg, a wrong forgiven".

"Three people whose ears are closed: a king bent on conquest, a merchent bent on profit, a monk who thinks himself holy".  

"Three things that unlock the secrets of the soul: heavy drinking, violent anger, innocent trust".

I hope this wets your appetite for more. Celtic Fire reminds us that the divine spirit is living everywhere, and in every living creature, and in the world around us. And like olden times, the lives of the Celtic saints can be a light of brightness for us again.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

The iPAD has made me a smarter person

I recently went out and bought an iPAD. Yes, I decided to jump in and experience an Apple product. Through the years, I've sat on the sidelines and watched people rave about the Mac, iPhone, iPod, and iTunes. Not so now!

Let me tell you, I've been amazed what you can do with tis thing! First, the iPAD is the coolest looking gadget you've ever seen. A small square of glossy glass and metal. What's more, it's handy and you can easily carry it around on travel to the gym, hotel Starbucks or Jamba Juice. Much nicer than the laptop. I'm still in the learning phase with the iPAD but really appreciate how savvy this item is. Christian readers will find scores of lectures on Christian theology and spirituality which one can download and watch for freet. For example, there are also many important lectures by New Testament scholars N.T. Wright, and others. There are also many other free applications which provides access to books and literature.

I'm starting the hunt for some Celtic "stuff" and will keep you posted. In the meantime, I am enjoying my slow conversion to Macintosh.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Jerry Coffee and the practice of awareness

Almost two weeks ago, I had the opportunity to hear CPT Jerry Coffee speak at a dinner event I was attending. CPT Coffee is a well-known and respected veteran who spent over seven years as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton, largely restricted to a 3x6 foot room. He is a marvelous speaker and person, with a remarkable story.  Let me share some of the key features of his talk.

After being shot down in Vietnam, he was captured, forced to walk for twelve days, and then taken to the famous Hanoi Hilton prison. I visited the Hanoi Hilton back in 1997 and I can tell you that its a heavy, dank place, made of thick concrete. Hard to imagine what it would be like to stay there for seven, long years. It's a museum now, with wax figures lying on wooden racks and terrible lighting. 

CPT Coffee noted that a turning point came for him when he realized that he was going to be a POW for a while. He mistakenly thought he would be released early on, but after several years he realized this was not going to happen. A turning point came when he moved from a perspective of "Why me?" to "What can I learn from being here?". He found a purpose in these events and tried to use them to make his life more productive. As his perspective changed, Coffee noted how each moment and day had valuable lessons to teach. He remarked there were many nights he went to bed feeling he had not done everything he wanted to do.

Another high point of Coffee's speech centered around how the prisoners developed an alphabetic code and began communicating to each others by tapping on walls. Many nights, the most comforting words a prisoner received by "GB" or "God Bless".

I found a clip on Youtube of CPT Coffee story and which is linked here.  I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Easter Story

Easter is always a great day in the life of the church. Lots of activity, energy and preperation. Great music, wonderful liturgy, and I hope a good sermon. Well, that's for others to decide.

Yesterday-Easter-was special to me in another way. And it was what happened to me AFTER the church service that made yesterday-Easter-so very unique and unlike any other. I was cleaning up the church after the service when a young thirty something homeless man came into the sanctuary. He walked upto me and as he began speaking, his eyes welled up with tears. He told me had been carrying his grandmother's ashes with him for some time-over a year I think, and wanted to know if I could bless them and have a small service for her. After saying "Of course" he disappeared and returned with a small baggie of ashes which he placed on the table we were using. I selected some sections from the Book of Common Prayer and as the service concluded, the man broke down again but now  mentioned that he felt he could "move on".

I thought about that event several times today. That experience, that image, reminded me of the importance of a ministry of "presence" and "service" in people's lives. Just "being there" and available to others-even the stranger- can result in an incredible spiritual experience. I don't know if I'll ever see this person again (I can't even remember his name) but I'll remember that experience forever. As I left the church and went over to our homeless feeding, I noted about two hundred people were in line, and eating picnic style. Many of them thanked me for the food and wished me a happy Easter. Little did they know how gifted and graced I felt to be in their presence.

Glory to God, Christ is Risen.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Dara Malloy and The Globalisation of God

"What the Celtic monastic paradigm establishes beyond doubt is that this form of spiritual community can achieve not only personal transformation but the transformation of human society. Personal and social transformation can take place without war or violence, without an imperialist or colonial agenda and without any top-down imposition of ideas. Celtic Spirituality offers the possibility of avoiding dogmatism, fundamentalism and all other temptations to control or change the behaviour of others from the outside. It emphasises change in oneself and invites an heroic commitment to one's own transformation" pg. 185.

My first encounter with Dara Molloy took place when I googled "Celtic Priest" one day. Up popped Dara's name and website (which is linked  here) and I decided to take a peek.  As I read about Dara, I was fascinated to learn that Dara lives on a small, remote island off the coast of Ireland, Inis Mor. I've been to similar islands in Scotland in the past, Jura and Islay to name a few, and believe me they are tough, rugged places, and not for the weak of heart. Almost like living on Skellig Michael! And yet what else would one expect from a modern day Celtic priest? Living apart, on the edges of the culture, just like the Celts of old. This raised my curiosity level a few more degrees. And as I read more about Dara, his interesting spiritual journey, his distinct take on the world, I realized this was a person I wanted to learn something more about. We spoke on Skype several times and therefore, I was delighted when my copy of The Globalisation of of God (2009) finally arrived in my mailbox. 

The Gobalisation of God  (GOG) is an interesting as Dara Molloy the person. GOG is a fascinating blend of  history, theology, spirituality and cultural and social analysis. A clue to the main argument of GOG is contained in the cover image. There, a parasitic cuckoo chick kicks out the indigenous egg from  the nest. So too, GOG goes onto convincingly demonstrate that Roman Catholicism "kicked out" and destroyed the "local" expression of Christianity in Ireland. This was a tragedy because the ecclesiatical colonisation of Ireland destroyed a vital and distinctive brand of Christianity.

This book is an entertaining read, with many unexpected twists and turns. Personally, I found the sections on Celtic Christianity and the Celtic Church to be the real strengths of the book. Obviously Dara knows the history well, and he writes with great poise. For example, Molloy outlines in a fresh and convincing way, how the Celtic Church thrived for nearly 800 years on its own, in splendid isolation, without any outside interference from Rome. There are terrific sections on the hermits of Egypt, St. Patrick, St. Columba, St. Columbanus and others. There is also a super chapter on Pelagius, detailing his intellectual brawls with Augustine. Yet,  as I hinted at in the opening quote above, the real brilliance of GOG is the way Molloy holds up the model of the Celtic Church. In so doing, Molloy provides a way forward for faith communities. The kernal of that message is to "go local", to build a spirituality from the ground up, from the community around you, and the relationships you share. Other key principles include simplicity and respecting diversity; believing that life is sacred; staying close to the natural environment; emphasizing simplicty.

GOG will challenge you, and I think Dara is onto something significant here. Although I don't agree with everything theologically that Molloy says, (what Celt would?) GOG got me thinking more about a bottom-up approach to spirituality. Dare I say an earth based AND people based spirituality. It made me question my relationships with people around me, and what I am doing to be connected with what is going on "locally". We've discussed before how one of the worst features of Western Christianity is that its too often individualistic and brain centered. Here's another example where the Celtic Church of the past can be a model for the present. The focus on relationships with people, communities, and the earth  help to keep the faith relevant, issue based, rooted in people, and something more than just some intellectual formula.

GOG reminds us of just how great spirituality can be. We have a phrase here in Hawaii, which is "local style" and describes the way folks do things differently than others.  This is another way of saying we need not do things in a cookie-cutter fashion like Wall Mart or Home Depot. Local customs, traditions, and styles should be celebrated-even in church. Else such structures are no different than McDonalds or some other franchise.

This book is a must for all Celtic lovers, and especially those who are interested in Celtic Christianity. You can order The Globalisation of God from Dara's website or Amazon.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Spartacus: Blood and Sand

My wife and I recently finished watching the first season of Spartacus: Blood and Sand. We were longing for more "historical" entertainment after having watched HBO's brilliant production Rome. I did some snooping around at the local store and stumbled upon Spartacus: Blood and Sand, which just completed it's first year. And what a lucky find this was! Spartacus has everything that Rome has to offer; story, deceit, love, lust, deception, as well as fantastic fighting scenes. If you liked Gladiator, you will love Spartacus. The first year had me on the edge of my seat-bed actually. We can't wait for year two, three, and hopefully more.

What I love is that Spartacus  takes the perspective from the gladiator's point of view. This is a story rarely heard, even if only fictionally. This is the story of slaves, who were trained to fight and kill to provide entertainment for their masters, the Romans. And remarkably, we meet men and woman who still hold to love, and ideals in a world in which they have little say or power.

One of the most attractive characters in the series, is the Celt Crixus, which in Gaelic means  "one with curly hair". Crixus is a magnificent character, a powerful and proud Celtic warrior. I pause to mention Crixus, because he is such a wonderful and memorable Celt; impulsive, hot headed, and one hell of a fighter in the ring. Before Spartacus arrives on the scene, Crixus is top dog. Rivals at first, Spartacus and Crixus warm to one another, and this is how the first year concludes. Historically the real Spartacus and Crixus would lead a rebellion of slaves against the Romans, so I imagine this is what we will encounter in future episodes.

A feature of good drama is that it can make you feel you are part of the story, lifting you from the present and placing you in either past or future. Spartacus: Blood and Sand  does just that and along the way you will meet Crixus, Spartacus and many others. It is a journey well taken.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Book review of The Language of Silence

One of the deep themes in Celtic spirituality is the desert tradition from Egypt which includes such towering figures as Antony and the desert fathers and mothers. Follow this rustic path and envitably one discovers the Camaldolese tradition, a strict form of the Benedictines which emphasizes solitude and separation. Peter-Damian Belisle's The Language of Silence (2003) provides an excellent starting point for anyone interested in learning more about the Camaldonese tradition. The book is part of the Traditions of Chrisitan Spirituality Series, a series which has a wonderful volume on Celtic Spirituality entitled Journeys on the Edges: The Celtic Tradition featured earlier on this blog. A warning. These books are like candy. Eat one, and you will want to devour them all. These are well written and provide wonderful snapshots of great Christian spiritual traditions. To my surprize, I've already read five other volumes including ones on the Dominicans, Franciscans, Benedictines and Cistercians. 

Belisle's book is focused around the theme of "the monk within", a theme I might add that we also encountered in Ed Sellner's book Finding the Monk Within (2008). Belisle writes: "We are all drawn inward, towards the centre of existence. We come to know ourselves as drawn into a presence. Solitude ushers us into presence, towards which the language of silence is most attentive. If we find ourselves in relation that presence at the centre of our being, we will move our hearts, indeed, our lives, outwardly in solidarity with all our brothers and sisters througout the world" (pgs. 171-2.)

The book outlines how solitude is a longstanding theme in God's holy history-since forever. Solitude has always been an important ingredient of the spiritual  life, featured in Old and New Testaments and throughout the history of the Christian Church. Belisle seems to be tapping the modern reader on the shoulder saying "listen up to this ancient Christian practice, you might just learn something"!

A survey of Old and New Testament figures includes Moses, Elijah, John the Baptist, Jesus and Mary and stresses the solitary in each. A pivital chapter on Athanasius's Life of Anthony is a must for all Protestant leaning readers, followed by a section on the desert solitaries. The tour of solitude moves then to several of the great Patristic writers including Basil the Great and John Cassian. There are also chapters on Benedict of Nursia and notably writers in the Camaldolese, Carthusian and Cistercian traditions. A final chapter includes fascinating portrayals of contemporary solitudes including Charles de Foucauld, Dorothy Day and others. This is an impressive list of folks, all weaned in the school of silence. We would do well to listen.

The Language of Silence provides an excellent starting point for anyone interested in contemplation, and monastic solitude. Lets face it, we live in an age which features a noisy, wordy world, and noisy, wordy Christianity. And with all this noise, when does one really have the time to listen for that still, small voice? This book makes the convincing case that a different way, perhaps even a better way can be found within the walls of quiet reflection and solitude. This is how God has worked in the past, and this is how God works today. It is a compelling challenge to our noisy and gadgety culture. Another case of addition by subtraction.

On the negative side, The Language of Silence may try to cover too much ground in one swoop-there are a ton of personalities presented here, too many in fact. I think it would have been more effective to have longer chapters on fewer individuals. Yet even so, along the way, one may find a hermit that one can relate to.

We all have a "monk within" and this book helps us to answer how we can nurture and develop that important side to our spiritual personality.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

In praise of trash

This past week I had a radiator replaced on my Chevy truck. Not exactly the kind of thing I wanted to do on a holiday, but what else can one do? And anytime I have a block of three to four hours to do something, I always have a good book with me to pass the time. This time, it was Peter Damian Belisle's The Language of Silence, a great book on monastic solitude which I will review in a later article.  Perhaps it had something to do with the monastic stress on "awareness" but something strange happened. Let me share it with you.

To pass the time of day, I parked myself at one of the local bus stops-to get out of the sun-and to have a place where I could read some of Belisle's wonderful book. While reading, I noted that several people stopped by to sort through a nearby trashcan, searching for bottles, cans, anything they could redeem for cash. Even though I was reading, I kept my inner eye on what was taking place around me. It was fascinating! The people didn't even seem to notice (or care) that I was there. One person even sorted through the trash can, picking out odd letters and notes, which he read and kept, and then went on his way.

This got me to thinking. What struck me was how such an activity-people sorting through trash-has now become an accepted part of American life. I would even go onto venture that can diving is now part of one's everyday experience. This was not so in the past, when such behavior was seen as "odd" but now I've noticed how frequent it is to see people from many different social and ethnic backgrounds, searching for bottles and cans, pushing shopping carts full of bottles, or to be seen walking with plastic bags, and doing whatever it takes, just to get by and make a few extra dollars.  Trash diving is now the norm. No doubt it is a sign of the difficult economic and social times we now live in. I can remember a time-not long ago-when I heard about this kind of thing in far away places like India, or Dickens's London, where people sort through all the trash looking for any and all items of value. But now I am sad to say that such practices  happen in the USA as well. These are interesting times indeed!

These are difficult economic times, and people will do whatever they need to do in order to survive, so we should not be surprised. Most importantly of all, these experiences reminded me that these persons, these "trash pickers" are people too, who are made in God's image. They are people with whom I have something in common, and not strangers. And even though some might suffer from mental illness or have an addiction, they are of great value. They are my brothers and sisters!

I have experienced this on a local level for years. At St. Aidan's Church for example, there is an individual who calls himself "the bottle and can man" (he even has a business card with that printed on it) and one of the things he does is recycle. He is willing to go anywhere at any time, just to make a few extra dollars, and collect empty bottles and cans. Bless that man, and bless those who are merely trying to get by. God's word reminds us that these folks are our extended family, and that it is our responsbility to reach out to them, care for them, and be Christ's heart and hands. Curious, isn't it, that in reaching out to the stranger and the poor, that we find the face and presence of Christ. Our natural inclination might be to run or turn our back from such a person. Yet the divine imperative is to reach out.

Coming to a trash can near you! A human being trying to survive. And coming to you, the wonderful opportunity to experience God's grace. Do the right thing and show that person the respect and dignity they deserve. In so doing, you will open yourself to the great gift of God's presence.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Blessing a building

Clergy are frequently to bless homes, condo's and townhouses. In December I had a first- blessing a building! Some friends invited me to bless their new business in downtown Honolulu. They opened a medical clinic and I was happy to oblige! We had a great time and I've included a photo so you can see my able assistants, Nema and Armon.
This got me to thinking about the idea of "blessing", a theme we addressed in a previous blog artice. What exactly do we mean when we say "blessing"? For some, "blessings" are things performed only by priests. For others, "blessings" are something which occur ocassionally, and are typically restricted to such events as meals, or church related events such as baptisms, weddings and the like. 

Celtic Christians share a larger notion of "blessing". For the Celts, all of life is a "blessing", and moreover, this "blessing" extends to the most mundane aspects of life. Nothing is left out. Such a perspective was previously discussed in my last article on the Carmina Gadelica, that great collection of prayers and blessings by Alexander Carmichael. There, as we noted, prayers, blessings, and thanksgivings take place at every moment and movement throughout one's day; while waking, walking, working, eating, resting, waiting, and even in death. By contrast, for the Celt, blessings are a regular occurance, something to be anticipated numerous times throughout the day. One last thing. We are meant to be a blessing for other people. St. Augustine once remarked we are "to be taken, blessed, broken, distributed that the work of the Incarnation may go forward". We don't often agree with that Bishop of Hippo, but here we give him the nod.