Wednesday, October 31, 2007

another paper...

I have a real post coming soon, because we have had a lot of fun stuff going recently, and plenty of pictures, but in the meantime, until I have a chance to properly write something, here's a little paper I did for my class entitled "Anthropological Issues in Theology." It's a synthesis of a book entitled The Ritual Process, written by an anthropologist named Victor Turner. Maybe it just proves that I'm boring, but this stuff really interests me, especially as a member of a religious community, since religious life is often seen as having something of the character of permanent liminality about it. Liminality, by the way, comes from the Latin limen, "threshold," and implies being outside of the social conventions of class and gender and hierarchy roles that exist in every culture, like being a "tweenager" -- neither child nor adult. Anyway, read it and sleep...

Turner spends a great deal of energy in The Ritual Process discussing the notion of liminality, including its occurrence in rites de passage, following van Gennep’s three-stage outline of separation, margin (i.e. liminality), and aggregation. He links the formation of communitas with liminality while attempting to analyze the peculiar phenomenon of socially marginal groups holding considerable sacral power.

Turner’s discussion of liminality has numerous connections to the notion of the regressus ad uterum discussed by Mircea Eliade: “The return to the womb is signified either by the neophyte’s seclusion in a hut, or by his being symbolically swallowed by a monster, or by his entering a sacred identified with the uterus of Mother Earth.” (Myth 80) Eliade then goes on to discuss the Indian upanayama ceremony, in which “the teacher is said to transform the boy into an embryo and to keep him in his belly for three nights,” (Myth 80) which symbolizes not only a return to the womb, but to the womb of a ‘male mother,’ an initiatory holy person who, holding together male and female, becomes “undifferentiated” and therefore himself a liminal figure.
In Turner’s words, “liminality is frequently likened to death, to being in the womb, to invisibility, to darkness, to bisexuality, to the wilderness, to an eclipse of the sun or moon.” (Turner 95) Ritualized encounters with death in the belly of the beast typically enact rebirth as well, so that, “The initiatory cabin represents not only the belly of the devouring monster but also the womb.” (Birth 36) Anthropologist Martin Buss points out that the prophet or shaman in aboriginal cultures is typically a socially marginal person, and that such cultures watch their children for signs of such marginality, and are able to steer them toward shamanistic vocations. The unconventional figure might stand outside conventional gender roles: he/she may be homosexual or androgynous (which some Native American cultures see as “two-souled” and thus super-spiritual), or a celibate or eunuch. The shamanistic figure might be both haunted and gifted psychologically, which might lead to or flow from extended solitude or meditative distance which would lend itself to alternative modes of seeing reality. The possibility of physical handicap, especially blindness, also has a long history in the mythic tradition: the blind one is the one who truly sees, who is not confounded by the illusions of the senses, such as Tiresias, Oedipus, or the Stygian Witches. Eliade says by way of example, “In Siberia, the youth who is called to be a shaman attracts attention by his strange behavior; for example, he seeks solitude, becomes absent-minded, loves to roam in the woods or unfrequented places, has visions, and sings in his sleep.” (Birth 87) He then goes on to elucidate:
"the shamanic vocation often implies a crisis so deep that it sometimes borders on madness…
The total crisis of the future shaman, sometimes leading to complete disintegration of the personality and to madness, can be valuated…as a symbolic return to the precosmogonic Chaos…Now, as we know, for archaic and traditional cultures, a symbolic return to Chaos is equivalent to preparing a new Creation." (Birth 89)

This is in line with Jung’s statement that “the experience of the Self [that is, the true self] is always a defeat for the ego [that is, for the false self].” Although they are on different ends of a spectrum of “impressiveness,” to encounter one’s true naked and humble reality or to encounter the Numinous cuts the legs out from under the ego in favor of a more honest appropriation of who one truly is. The distance and social margination of which Eliade writes enables identification with the socially marginal or the ritually unclean, which then engenders critique of the religious symbol-structure itself, since the religion all too often enables and validates the purity code. As Turner puts it, “The shaman or prophet assumes a statusless status, external to the secular social structure, which gives him the right to criticize all structure-bound personae in terms of a moral order binding on all, and also to mediate between all segments or components of the structured system.” (Turner 128)

Turner says, “if liminality is regarded as a time and place of withdrawal from normal modes of social action, it can be seen as potentially a period of scrutinization of the central values and axioms of the culture in which it occurs.” (Turner 167) This has important implications for the concept of prophecy understood in keeping with Walter Brueggemann’s image of prophecy as a poetic imaginative rendering of alternative possibilities for the world beyond the data on the ground at any given moment. That is, the world need not be as it is, should not be as it is, particularly for those who are ground under the wheels of the machinery of social control; societas devoid of communitas is a structure devoid of humanity.

Nevertheless, for it to endure, the communitas must undergo some kind of structuring. “Nowhere has this institutionalization of liminality been more clearly marked and defined than in the monastic and mendicant states in the great world religions.” (Turner 107) Both are meant to be states of “permanent liminality,” despite the never-ending sine wave of renewal and decline that inevitably accompanies them. Thomas Merton taps into this idea of “deliberate irrelevance” in his image of monastic renewal: “Are monks and hippies and poets relevant? No, we are deliberately irrelevant. We live with an ingrained irrelevance which is proper to every human being…The marginal person, the monk, the displaced person, the prisoner, all these people live in the presence of death, which calls into question the meaning of life.” (Cunningham 227) The categories of people whom Merton linked to monks all stand outside of the conventions of the social order, have nothing left to prove, no claims to be made on their behalf by the structure of their culture. Similarly, Turner discusses the original communitas of Francis of Assisi and its later codification, pointing out that “Francis appears quite deliberately to be compelling the friars to inhabit the fringes and interstices of the social structure of his time, and to keep them in a permanently liminal state, where, so the argument in this book would suggest, the optimal conditions inhere for the realization of communitas.” (Turner 145)

Turner, discussing the nature of liminality, anticipates the later insights of René Girard on the paradoxical power of the seemingly powerless, those who seem to be below the system of social stratification but who nevertheless wield power over it. Often liminal persons and groups are at once despised and honored, seen as both powerful in their ability to pollute and reviled for being beneath the system. Speaking of the Greek figure of the pharmakos, Girard says, “On the one hand, he is a woebegone figure, an object of scorn who is also weighed down with guilt…On the other hand, we find him surrounded by a quasi-religious aura of veneration; he has become a sort of cult object.” (Violence 95)

In Turner’s mind this is because “from the perspectival viewpoint of those concerned with the maintenance of ‘structure,’ all sustained manifestations of communitas must appear as dangerous and anarchical, and have to be hedged around with prescriptions, prohibitions, and conditions.” (Turner 109) I would argue that, since the structure does not work for marginal people, they tend to create their own social organization, which necessarily takes the form of communitas, i.e., is egalitarian and generally dismissive of the distinctions such as property rights that enable structure to thrive. However, this non-structure is inherently subversive to the structure that says that existence apart from the structure is impossible, and so must be seen as poisonous to the health of the structure. Speaking of the “undifferentiated character of liminality,” (Turner 104) Turner comes very close to Girard’s view that liminality is dangerous to structure because it undermines “the very foundation of cultural order, the family and the hierarchical differences without which there would be no social order.” (Scapegoat 15) This would make sense in connection with the standard practices of allowing or forcing liminal people to transgress the usual conventions of the culture – initiates are sometimes allowed great sexual freedom or allowed to dress in clothing inappropriate to their gender and state of life, go about naked, or remain in solitude.

Paradoxically, this dangerous nature of communitas is also “almost everywhere held to be sacred or ‘holy,’ possibly because it transgresses or dissolves the norms that govern structured and institutionalized relationships and is accompanied by experiences of unprecedented potency.” (Turner 128) This, again, links with Girard’s notion that “the sacred embraces all those forces that threaten to harm man or trouble his peace.” (Violence 58) Hardly a predictable definition by our Christian standards, but interestingly in line with the imagery of the sacred-as-taboo (such as the prohibition against touching Mount Sinai in EX 19:12-3 because of its sacred character – “those zones of life that are inhabited by Yahweh in an intense way must be kept pure and uncontaminated.” (Brueggemann 192)) Turner and Girard both discuss how initiates into rites de passage “are kept on the periphery of the community or sometimes even exiled to the forest, jungle, or desert.” (Violence 282) However, Turner focuses on the goal of initiatory ordeals as “partly a destruction of the previous status [which, following Eliade, is essential for the rebirth of a new status] and partly a tempering of their essence in order to prepare them to cope with their new responsibilities and restrain them in advance from abusing their new privileges.” (Turner 103) Girard, on the other hand, claims that they “give the young person a foretaste of what lies in store for anyone rash enough to neglect or transgress prescribed religious rituals,” (Violence 285) that is, anyone who challenges the status quo of the structure.

Walter Brueggemann’s notion of Israel’s emergence from the hegemony of Pharaoh takes the shape of a new social phenomenon defined by communitas, in contradistinction to the faceless structure of Egypt, with the structure of the Decalogue defined precisely as a way to avoid Israel becoming that which it sought to escape. In this vein, following Turner’s insight that “it is the fate of all spontaneous communitas in history to undergo what most people see as a ‘decline and fall’ into structure and law,” (Turner 132) the prophetic tradition in Israel emerges as the structure of kingship begins to look more and more like that of Pharaoh, and the prophets oppose the kings as Moses did, with summons back to the communitas of covenant. Similarly, the monastic orders have been repeatedly reformed because of their ability to move away from the limen to the center of society, and the mendicant movements that emerged in response to the loss of liminality in the church quickly assimilated to the same kind of power and wealth against which they rebelled. Turner wants to hold structure and communitas in tension, and sees that tension as critical to sustaining the existence of a society while not sacrificing the esprit that makes it a community.

Works Cited
Brueggemann, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy.
Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortess, 1997.
Buss, Martin J. “An Anthropological Perspective Upon Prophetic Call Narratives.” Semeia 21
(1981): 9-30.
Cunningham, Lawrence. Thomas Merton: Spiritual Master. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1992.
Eliade, Mircea. Birth and Rebirth: The Religious Meanings of Initiation in Human Culture. NY: Harper and Brothers, 1958.
---. Myth and Reality. NY: Harper and Row, 1963.
Girard, René. The Scapegoat. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986.
---. Violence and the Sacred. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1977.
Turner, Victor. The Ritual Process: Structure and Anti-Structure. NY: Aldine de Gruyter, 1969.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Reflection for 25 October 2007 – Romans 6:19-23

Apologies for the (perhaps) pedantic nature of what follows. It was the reflection I prepared for the daily mass, so it's not exactly the fun and games of my daily (mis)adventures, but hopefully it may still be worth reading.

In the series of readings from Romans that we hear this week, Paul is going on at great length about being free from the law by grace, about sin and death, and about life in the flesh vs. life in the spirit. Important themes, but confusing, and ones that we have heard, at least in caricature, so often that we can miss the depth of Paul’s understanding of our human condition. As I have written before, it isn't about seeing the body as bad and the spirit as good, but seeing the "bodily" (or better, the "fleshly") as bad -- living according to our passions. It isn't about seeing the world as bad, but about rejecting the "worldly" -- the attitudes and illusions of the mass mind. Unfortunately, our tendency is to see these texts through the mistaken lens of setting “the law,” i.e. Judaism and all the alleged nitpicky fussiness of their holiness codes, in opposition to “the gospel,” which, we say, is free from all that junk. All we need to do, so we say, is have faith, (which to our rationalistic mindset means to believe in a particular set of doctrines), and we’re good to go, we’re saved. [Note: Paul does not equate faith and belief -- faith is an existential stance, a manner of life, that generates and is generated by the ideational claims we hang on to.] Do you notice, though, that Paul talks several times about transferring our slavery from one master to another, but still being slaves? “For just as you presented the parts of your bodies as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness for lawlessness, so now present them as slaves to righteousness for sanctification.” (Rom. 6:19) “[Y]ou have been freed from sin and have become slaves of God.” (Rom. 6:22) Paul has no silly notion of freedom as being free from responsibility to other people, or just doing whatever you want, nor does he even see the law as bad. Quite the contrary: he explicitly says a few verses down the road, “So then the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.” (Rom. 7:12)

A few months ago I heard a speaker talk about Paul’s notion of freedom this way: who is the freest person in the world on a golf course? Or on a basketball court? Tiger Woods, maybe, on the golf course, or Michael Jordan, in his heyday, on the basketball court. It isn’t the kid who just goes and messes around, “doing whatever he wants,” but the person who submits to discipline, training, learning from the masters of the game. Michael Jordan was so free on the court because he had disciplined his body and mind to the point that he had the skills to do just about anything he wanted out there. That’s freedom. In the realm of transformation of consciousness that means freedom to do good, freedom to not be ruled by the falsehoods of popular society or of our own passions. Just like with those athletes who are free because they submit to learning from the masters of their craft, striving towards freedom means yoking ourselves to the spiritual masters – Paul, Augustine, Francis, Ignatius, Thérèse, Merton and more – and watching them in action. We read their books, not so much to multiply ideas, but to visualize them in action and to learn from them how to be. You see that in cultures in which a mentoring tradition is still alive and well, and it isn’t so much about passing on ideas, pedagogy, as it is about having people sit at the feet of the master, bringing people into the experience itself, mystagogy. Before and after the little section we read tonight, Paul talks about the members of the community being dead to sin, sharing in the death of Jesus, that “our old self was crucified with him” (Rom. 6:6) and that they are “raised from the dead to life.” (Rom. 6:13) While instruction is a part of it, and right speech does matter (I teach theology, so of course I think it’s important!), Paul emphasizes that they have been brought into the mystery, taught how to die and rise as it were, rather than that they have gotten all the doctrines formulated correctly. May we be “free to die” and allow what feels like breaking down to break us through. You know what that means -- mercy within mercy within mercy...

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Kentucky -- Louisville and Gethsemani

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Saturday night. I have just arrived at the hermitage at Bethany Spring Retreat, now owned by the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living, directed by Jonathan Montaldo, Merton expert and graduate of Cor Jesu, a Brothers’ school in New Orleans which became our present school, Brother Martin High. But I get ahead of myself…

I had to work late on Thursday, and I’ve been working fairly long hours even for me the past few weeks, so Friday I woke up kinda late. I had wanted to leave early to be sure I got to Louisville in time for the start of the conference at Bellarmine University, but I realized that I needed to do laundry, so that cost me a couple of hours. I finally left the house about 2 pm, figuring that four hours in the car would put me there around 6:00, plenty of time to find the place where I was staying, drop off my stuff, and get to Bellarmine in time for the 7:00 keynote address. Of course, it didn’t work out quite that way. Getting to Louisville was no problem, apart from having forgotten about the time zone change, and finding the place where I was staying was easy enough, but my usual skill at navigating came through again, which means that covering the 3 miles from my room to Bellarmine and finding the right building took 45 minutes. Sheesh – sometimes I think I could get lost in my own house…At least I got to see some nice parts of Louisville. Anyway, I finally found the place and heard the last half-hour or so of the talk, shook a few hands, grabbed some dinner, and went back to my room. I work nights, of course, so I couldn’t get to sleep until late, and I had to get up early (earlier because of the time change!) to be back for the start of affairs the next morning. The conference was very good, and there were a lot of folks there who are important in Merton circles: Br. Paul Quenon, OCSO; Fr. George Kilcourse; Lyn Szabo; Ron Seitz; and so on. I got to meet Tommie O’Callaghan, a tiny woman with a lot of feistiness in her eyes, who was a Louisville friend of Merton’s back in the mid-to-late 60’s. The talks were quite good, despite my lack of sleep that had me fading in and out a couple of times during the day. At lunch I went up to the Merton Center in Bellarmine’s library, saw the marvelous collections of photographs, Merton books in various and sundry languages, artwork, and a few score theses and dissertations on every conceivable aspect of Merton’s life and work. I wouldn’t mind hiding in there for a few months and reading a couple (dozen) of those…

Overall the conference was really great; one talk even gave me an idea for a paper doing an interface between Merton and Walter Brueggemann on their notions of poetry and prophecy – one of the presenters said it was a great idea and encouraged me to pursue it. When it all ended about 8:45, Br. Paul offered to let me follow him down to Gethsemani, since the place where I’m staying is only about a mile away. Tomorrow I’ll go over to the abbey to tour, go to one or two of the offices, including mass, and, thanks to Br. Paul, join a group that is going up to Merton’s hermitage! Couldn’t pass that one up…

Sunday, 21 October 2007

Morning in the hermitage was splendid; although there is heat and air conditioning, I left them off last night so I could feel the chill that lets me know that fall is finally falling. Not cold, but brisk enough to make me move through my morning ablutions with a purpose. The shower quickly ran out of hot water, reminded me of Klagetoh at Christmas, made me want to be out there again. A quick bowl of soup with a perfectly ripe avocado scooped in, a little poetry by Jalal-ud’din Rumi, and I was gone.

I got to the monastery about 9:45, and Terce (one of the 7 daily prayer periods at the monastery) started at 10:20, so I had a little time to walk around. Nice place, nothing exceptional (which one should expect from a Trappist monastery), but I couldn’t stop wondering what exactly it looked like in Merton’s day. Even the “GOD ALONE” sign over one of the archways wasn’t the same one I had seen in older pictures of the place. I went into the abbey church a little early, looking for some quiet, but there was a group on retreat, and a lot of them were already in there, and they were a fidgety bunch, fiddling with cell phones and cameras and stage-whispering to each other about how great the quiet is. Terce finally started, a brief and slightly off-key affair, although whether that was because of the monks or the guests, I’m not sure. (*On a side note, in all the monasteries I have ever visited, they always use music that has no recognizable pattern or melody, and they go so slow as to make it almost inevitable that people will lose the beat. Doing that more than once every blue moon would drive me batty.*) After Terce, one of the monks opened a little gate that separated us from the monks’ choir stalls, and we all filed forward for Mass. The principal celebrant (the abbot, I later discovered) exuded a relaxed but no-nonsense kind of simplicity that made the liturgy very nice, all the crazy chant tones aside. Afterward, I went outside and found Br. Paul Quenon already gathering the group he had invited me to join the evening before, plus Fr. George Kilcourse assembling a group of his students from Bellarmine for a tour and picnic. I stuck with Br. Paul, who took us right away to Merton’s hermitage. It looked very much like I had expected, although not WHERE I had expected it. There were about 20 people in the group, all talking and bustling around and handling everything, so it didn’t feel quite right at first, but since I was bustling around too, taking pictures of everything, I couldn’t exactly resent them for wanting to do the same. Finally they all gathered for a lecture and I was able to find a tree trunk to curl up under and read some Edward Abbey. By this time it had become a perfect fall afternoon, ideal for doing what I was doing, and I went back and forth between reading a few pages and moving into meditation. It felt at once like I spent hours and like I was only there a few minutes, and I got an idea of why my co-worker and teacher Belden Lane writes about “backpacking with the saints” – bringing spiritual classics with him when he goes hiking or camping: reading a book by a crusty old desert rat like Ed Abbey while at the hermitage of another famous solitary somehow felt right.

After a couple of hours out there, I came back with Br. Paul to the retreat house where I was staying. The place, for a long time run by a community of sisters, was just bought by the Merton Institute for Contemplative Living and, as serendipity would have it, that was the day of the dedication ceremony, which they invited me to attend. I met the abbot, who I knew was a longtime friend of my former co-worker Judy Stewart, and Br. Patrick Hart, Merton’s secretary, as well as various and sundry board members and other Merton-philes. The ceremony was a little too long, a couple of speeches turned into verbal back-slapping of a thousand old buddies (you know the kind I mean), but all in all it was fine, and I was able to sneak away to my hermitage when the reception started.
I went back to the abbey for Vespers (evening prayer) at 5:30, then back to the retreat center for one of those wonderful, spontaneous meals in which a bunch of people show up unexpectedly, each bringing something, and strangers end up lingering at table because such a resonance occurs. The only two other people under 50 at the table were a young couple, younger than I, who are riding their bikes from Maine to Nashville, then going to a 5-week Vipassana (Buddhist) retreat. Both were very nice, so I invited them back to the hermitage after supper to see the place. We talked for a couple of hours about Merton, Buddhism, mysticism East and West, and so on. Very nice, but very telling that two former Christians went to Buddhism because they didn’t see Christianity having any kind of mystical tradition to offer. Of course it’s there, but we don’t do a good job of making it known or available – what a failure on our part to offer people more than minimalisms and legalism!

Monday, 22 October 2007

Got up early today, said my goodbyes, and got on the road. Stopped by Gethsemani again, went to the Trappists' cemetary and saw Merton's grave marker. There was still a Tibetan scarf there from when the Dalai Lama came to honor Merton. After a very minor bit of thinking, I left my cross there, the one I wear every day. I figure I'll get it back when I go next month with my students, but it seemed appropriate to offer something as important to me as that cross to the memory of a person who continues to be so important to me and to so many other people.

Sunday, October 14, 2007


So I promised a birthday post, but last week was crazy enough that it has taken me a while to get around to it. I showed up at work on Monday (my birthday) and found this poster taped to my door:

That day was a fairly normal work day; I was pretty wiped out still from the Nature Retreat, but I had meetings and stuff to be at. That evening during the community night for the Micah Program (a service-learning community with which I work) a couple of the older students came and "serenaded" me with a birthday song. Throughout the day people were coming by or leaving notes on Facebook, and a couple of people brought food, so by the end of the day my office smelled like a bakery. My friend Laura and one of the campus ministry student workers conspired to print a shirt for me (picture to follow) with "BP" on the front and "Destructo" on the back. (*Long story short -- the Brothers in my community don't change our names anymore when we take vows, but we used to up until Vatican II, and when I was a novice, I jokingly said I wanted to take the name "Destructo" as a religious name. Somehow, it followed me up here.*) I also heard from a lot of friends and Brothers throughout the day. Laura's boyfriend John found a shirt made by Schlafly's (a local brewery in StL) that had the quote, "Bier trinkt man nicht nur zum Frühstück" -- loosely translated, "Beer: it's not just for breakfast." Gee, am I that transparent?
Thursday evening I met a friend who works at a local PBS affiliate, and we watched a documentary sponsored by PBS on the Miss Navajo Nation pageant. That pageant takes place about 5 minutes from where I used to live, and it brought back a lot of memories, good and bad. Part of the pageant involves the contestants butchering a sheep -- somehow I can't picture them introducing that into the Miss America pageant...With all this monasticism stuff, and the sacred landscapes class, the desert has been calling my name for a while, so I hope to get out to AZ this winter or spring to go get lost for a while.

The parents were here this weekend, in fact just left a few hours ago, and we ran around all day yesterday. We spent most of the afternoon in the Botanical Garden -- how had I never been there before?! -- and it was just marvelous. The pond in the Japanese Garden has the biggest carp I have ever seen, and they have a little dispenser for fish food, so we fed these monsters, and they had a mini-feeding frenzy over the little pellets we were tossing them. My mom's watch dropped in the pond while she was feeding them, so we joked that some fish is going to be swimming around ticking like the crocodile in Peter Pan. I found about a hundred little hiding places I could go spend an afternoon meditating or reading. I would go next weekend, but I'll be in Kentucky at a conference on Thomas Merton's poetry, followed by a visit to Gethsemani for a couple of days. I hope I am allowed to go looking around for Merton's hermitage while I am there, but at least I can see the abbey and the cemetery. Hopefully the brunt of the cold weather stays away long enough for me to get in an afternoon or so at the Garden when I get back. I am in the planning stage of bringing the students from my class up to Gethsemani at the end of the semester to see the place, and I plan to give them a couple of hours of quiet to explore and hide and soak in the spirit of the place.
All for now. Mercy within mercy within mercy...

Monday, October 8, 2007

Nature Retreat

This weekend was the second annual SLU Nature Retreat, offered by Campus Ministry of course, at the Reis Biological Station near Steelville, MO. I worked this retreat last year, and I just couldn't wait to go on it again. I worked support staff this year and last, which basically meant cooking and cleanup, so I interacted less with the students than other staff members, but nice to not have the pressure of preparing a speech or leading a small group. My friend and co-worker Laura Buck organizes this retreat, and just does a fantastic job. Friday I got up WAY too early to go buy all the food, then loaded it all up for the folks who were going out early. The students and the rest of the staff met at 3:00 to catch a school bus out to the retreat site, but I brought a van with some more odds and ends, and I got to ride out alone, which made for a wonderful 2 hours of quiet. That night we put out hot dogs and all the fixings for everyone (see photo below), and had some introductory activities, including a marvelous reflection involving stargazing and the reading of a couple of the chapters from the end of the Book of Job, where God outlines the grandeur of creation.

The next morning was a talk by Dr. Tobias Winright, one of the theology profs at SLU and one of my profs, followed by our major activity of the day, a canoe ride down the Huzzah River. The water was great, cool but not too cold, shallow enough that at points we had to carry our canoes, while at other places we could jump in from some of the little bluffs along the bank (see below). We were all pretty wiped out after that, so we had an hour or so of quiet for journaling/nap time/whatever before forging ahead. Dinner that night was fajitas, and the students who were assigned to me for that meal worked like troopers, and the outcome was that it was a truly memorable meal. The other support staff person, Patrick Devney, was a real rock star with keeping up with it all and making sure there was enough of everything. That night was caramel apples (a total mess to make, but wow, were they good) and s'mores around the camp fire. I was on for night prayer, so I kept it simple and read them Shel Silverstein's The Giving Tree, one of my favorite stories, and let the story speak for itself.

Sunday was pancakes and sausage, which was lots of fun, another talk, and then mass with Fr. Joe Fortier, SJ, who did a great homily on our place in the created world, followed by lasagna for our final meal. We got out by 1:30 and home by around 4:00, by which point I was pretty wiped out, so I came home to hide for a while. All that cooking took me back to my short-order days in high school, and how much I enjoyed juggling all the different pots and pans.

I know I have to put out a birthday post, so more soon...

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

goings on

Yesterday was my community's foundation day -- the 186th anniversary of our first 10 brothers taking vows at Our Lady of Fourviere church in Lyon, France. I love what I am doing here in StL, and the Marianists are marvelous, but I really missed being with my brothers for our celebration. I emailed a bunch of the bro's, and got back quite a few replies, including encouragements about the work up here and the Haiti trip. Nice reminder of our connection to each other, distance or no.

This next weekend is the SLU Nature Retreat, and I can't wait. It is only starting to get cold in the evenings (50s), whereas last year at this time it was frigid (for a Southern boy like myself). Camping, stargazing, canoeing, and more are all on the menu for the weekend, and I get to be support staff -- cooking and behind the scenes stuff. As much as I enjoy cranking out speeches and doing "spiritual direction" with people, cooking eggs and pancakes for 3 dozen people is a nice change of pace.

I got a notification on Facebook today that the sister of a student who comes rock climbing every week made the following comment on one of the photos she took of us at the climbing gym: "veronica!!! mommy says that british pertoleum looks like a thief!!!!! can u believe that. anyway he does not look like a brother (no offense to him of course he probably is super devoted and super after all that u told me but o well)"

A thief? Me? Here's the pic -- I'm the bald one. Judge for yourself...

In case you were wondering, "british pertoleum" (sic), by the way, is me -- BP for Brother Patrick.

Oh, the SLU chapter of Habitat for Humanity is trying to recruit me to be their new staff advisor, so I went back to the build site this past weekend to get to know a few more of them. Good time, not even close to the physical intensity of the week before. Which is good, because my hands were sore a whole week after the last time... Here we are at lunch -- I promise we're not just hanging around wasting time!
All for now. Mercy within mercy within mercy...