Thursday, August 26, 2010

Journeys, Vacations and Umbrellas

From the portion of the Rule of Benedict commonly read on April 25, August 25 and December 25:
Chapter 67: On Brethren Who Are Sent on a Journey

Let the brethren who are sent on a journey commend themselves to the prayers of all the brethren and of the Abbot; and always at the last prayer of the Work of God let a commemoration be made of all absent brethren.

When brethren return from a journey, at the end of each canonical Hour of the Work of God on the day they return, let them lie prostrate on the floor of the oratory and beg the prayers of all on account of any faults that may have surprised them on the road, through the seeing or hearing of something evil, or through idle talk. And let no one presume to tell another whatever he may have seen or heard outside of the monastery, because this causes very great harm. But if anyone presumes to do so, let him undergo the punishment of the Rule. And let him be punished likewise who would presume to leave the enclosure of the monastery and go anywhere or do anything, however small, without an order from the Abbot.

Among the several nuggets presented by Brother Jerome Leo in his reflection on this portion of the Rule of Benedict, are these words:

"Rare is the person who can manage to stay employed without at least a slightly different persona at work... Secular society has enlarged upon this tendency to its own ends. Because the tendency is so deeply rooted in us, we may fail to see its dangers when carried to extremes. Thanks to a society often glaringly unassisted by revelation, we have the unhappy concept of different umbrellas, different sets of ethics to cover different areas of life...

"The message of the Holy Rule and of the Gospel is that there is one umbrella, period... One heart, one umbrella, one Lord, one faith, one baptism."

Two things strike me:
  • This is a significant portion of our Baptismal service and commitment: "One Lord, One Faith, One Baptism", and
  • How tempting it is for me to try and create new boxes when confronted with new situations and experiences

While detailed instructions for Monastic life may be far removed from our everyday life, perhaps the real gem of this is how our Lord God provides an umbrella for us to sit under during our lives, both during the storms and troubles we each find, and during the bright sunshine of the wonderful parts of our lives.

May we all remember this during our work, our play, our vacations and our vocations...

God be with you,
(If you are interested in receiving a portion of the Rule of Benedict, with prayer requests and Brother Jerome's reflection, please visit for more information.)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Listening Generously

Dear Urban Abbey Members & Friends:

Yesterday, I listened to a Speaking of Faith podcast on “Listening Generously” with Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen. She spoke from her work as a patient (Chrome’s disease) and in treating cancer patients. Her main thesis was on the difference between curing and healing in the medical profession. Curing is working on the physical malady that is besetting a person and getting rid of it. Healing is much more holistic and involves treating the physical illness but also being present to help a person with the spiritual/emotional dimension of an illness.

Listening generously, paying attention to the entire person –physical, emotional, and spiritual -- enables the medical practitioner not only to give a more complete treatment to the person, but also can provide healing to the practitioner. The medical practitioner often feels loss as well as the patients the doctor treats. The doctors treat people who in a number of cases can’t be cured; they feel a loss in not being able to help all their patients. The patient certainly feels a loss in terms of their illness and how that constrains their life. Listening Generously allows the doctor to hear the patient’s “story” – their fears, concerns, worry. It allows the patient not only to tell their story, but, in telling their story, to give the doctor a way to truly help and be validated.

I believe Listening Generously is one of our callings as Abbey members. As a way to understand Listening Generously, Dr. Remen asks her medical students to describe a situation where they experienced a loss. Once they have had a chance to recapture that experience, she asks them to think of who it was that helped them and how that person helped them, and what people did that wasn’t helpful.

Here is my "story". I just lost my job due to company downsizing. That is not only a terrific shock to one’s ego, but also calls into question one’s self-worth and ability. One of the people who helped me the most was a colleague who came into my office and told me how sorry he was that I was being let go…and there was powerful emotion in his voice. A few days later, he and his wife took Penny and me out for dinner just to be with us and let us know we mattered. His quiet presence, not trying to offer solutions or platitudes but just listening to my “story”, was so comforting and healing that I find it hard to put into words.

That example of Listening Generously, I believe is what we are called to do both in our Community and in the larger community. I certainly feel a ‘calling’ now to Listen Generously to others. So, I invite you this day or this week to work with Dr. Remen’s two questions: recount a time where you experienced a loss; then, think of what people did that helped you and what they did that was not helpful. I believe this exercise will allow us to understand how to Listen Generously.

I invite you to participate in a discussion of Listening Generously. Please use our Abbey blog site to give the Community your thoughts and reactions so we can all be enriched.

Shalom and blessings, George

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Good Spirit

Dear Urban Abbey,

At Denise's funeral one the passages that was read during the service was from the Rule of St. Benedict, Chapter 72. For me it help me to understand what motivated Denise's loving presence on this earth and I felt like it was a good summary of what we should all strive for. The beautiful part is the initial point in the passage is that you do not have to do it alone! "The Good Spirit" is here to help us be the most loving community we can be.

"CHAPTER 72: The good spirit which should inspire monastic life

It is easy to recognize the bitter spirit of wickedness which creates a barrier to God's grace and opens the way to the evil of hell. But equally there is a good spirit which frees us from evil ways and brings us closer to God and eternal life. It is this latter spirit that all who follow the monastic way of life should strive to cultivate, spurred on by fervent love. By following this path they try to be first to show respect to one another with the greatest patience in tolerating weaknesses of body or character. They should even be ready to outdo each other in mutual obedience so that no one in the monastery aims at personal advantage but is rather concerned for the good of others. Thus the pure love of one another as of one family should be their ideal. As for God they should have a profound and loving reverence for him. They should love their abbot or abbess with sincere and unassuming affection. They should value nothing whatever above Christ himself and may he bring us all together to eternal life."

I know from Denise's model what it looks like to show respect to one another with the greatest patience in tolerating weaknesses of body or character. Certainly the Sisters at Bristow have lived out this rule completely as they offer their forgiveness, prayers and love to the young man who took so much from them. What would it look like or feel like in the Urban Abbey if we strove for this ideal? Are we inspired by the Good Spirit? Do we love each other with pure love as one family? I would love to hear your reflective and prayerful responses.

In pure love, Angela

[Posted by George for Angela]

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Leaves, Prayers, Death and Life

How can we make sense of death, especially a particular and tragic death such as Sister Denise's death in an automobile accident this past Sunday (Aug 1, 2010)?

Perhaps we can't. Or more accurately we don't see how we can in this, our current earthly life.

Last night, as I considered what and how to write the Urban Abbey blog entry for this week, reading news reports and my friends remembrances about Sister Denise, my mind went back to early 1986 and the book The Fall Of Freddie The Leaf By Leo Buscaglia. My father was dying from cancer and my wife and I pondered how to explain what was happening to our children, one in kindergarten, the other not even in pre-school yet. A friend gave us this book. It became a favorite of mine.

Freddie the Leaf fell from the tree to the ground in late autumn, after a full spring and summer of life. While many leaves do make it through all three seasons, falling when expected in autumn, others are torn from trees, shredded, and lost forever during horrible storms that reverberate through the forest and all surrounding hills. Such is how Sister Denise's death makes me feel. Her death, the injuries of two fellow sisters of the Benedictine Sisters of Virginia and the resulting holes in that community, as well as other surrounding communities remind me of the open, glaring, spaces after a storm sweeps through an area.

But remember how God uses these openings in our forests: Soon new growth springs to life, new shoots rise to meet the sun, animals, birds, lichens and moss all grow, as God intended.

Our community, formal, informal, religious, political and others are all using this moment. Debate rages regarding appropriate application of laws, what is true forgiveness, what changes (if any) we can make. Behind this remains God's call to seek forgiveness and to forgive. To cherish and treasure those among us and to celebrate the Resurrection.

Watch the news and engage in the debate, don't run from sadness and anger. Hold all before God. And if we can't think of where to start, perhaps the Prayer of St. Francis can be our springboard:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury,pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
 where there is darkness, light;
and where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
to be consoled as to console;
to be understood as to understand;
to be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Amen