Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Living in Community

Dear Urban Abbey Members and Friends:

At our recent Community meeting, we focused on one element of our Abbey Community – the Listening Groups. In our Listening Groups, we develop bonds and get to know the group members more intimately than we do with the majority of our community. Familiarity breeds love and trust; but, it also allows us to see faults and foibles that may get ‘under our skin’.

Father Talafous’ meditation (below) of a few days ago really struck home to me in the context of living in community…especially one that is non-residential. I am finding that as I grow older, my patience with people who don’t act or think as I do gets very thin. Some of you who think you know me well may find that inconsistent with what you see on the exterior. I’m not exactly sure why, but at my most authentic core, I get extremely frustrated with “fools” – people who don’t act like I expect or have differing opinions. I’ve developed this shell that seems sweet, but masks a heart that is not so sweet and nourishes grudges. At these times, it takes every effort of will to keep my tongue and mind in check. Even though I may not lash out verbally at someone, I am not really building Community if I cannot genuinely erase vengeful feelings. I cannot build Community if I cannot authentically share my inner core. The task for me is to find the courage and the ways to share the hurts or off-putting quirks with the other in a manner that is loving, recognizes the Christ within that person, and invites dialog. The answer for me and my prayer is to put my trust in God, continue to work at giving my will/ego to Christ, and be open to His healing presence. To borrow from our Urban Abbey Collect, “As I cannot in my own strength do this or even with hope of success attempt it, I ask these things, O Creator, through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord together with the Spirit. Amen.”

How do you handle disagreements in Community? I invite your thoughts and comments.

Shalom and Many Blessings, George

“After hearing so much in Scripture about forgiveness and mercy we might ask ourselves what the fuss is all about. Don't I forgive? Someone harms me or seriously irritates me and I forgive them, don't I? There is a danger that we take all this too superficially; that we overestimate how easy it is. Just to form the syllables, "I forgive," is physically easy, but genuinely to erase from our hearts vengeful feelings about the other is not easy. It might take time; emotions do not change as swiftly as the mouth can pronounce the words. It is more honest to recognize that we want to forgive someone but can't do it yet. The frequent admonitions to forgive, to have mercy are there perhaps because it does take us a long time to develop a habit of genuine forgiveness. It takes a long time to develop a heart which does not nourish grudges and look for chances to get even, if only with a nasty word. Part of the following of Jesus is imitating His forgiveness. A daily prayer for a gentle, contrite, humble heart is never untimely.” --Fr. Don Talafous, OSB

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Taste and See

Dear Urban Abbey Members, a few days ago my mediation book, God Calling, had the following meditation.

"Taste and See"

"O taste and see that the Lord is good"
Psalm 34:8

"He is good. Trust in Him. Know that all is well. Say 'God is good. God is good.' Just leave in His Hands the present and the future, knowing only that he is good. He can bring order out of chaos, good out of evil, peace out of turmoil. God is good.
I and My father are One. One in desire to do good. For God to do good to His children is for Him to share His goodness with them. God is good, anxious to share His goodness, and good things with you, and He will do this. Trust and be not afraid."

I love that song, and even more since we discerned that God calls us at St. George's to feed his people. But to be honest, I don't always feel God's goodness in the turmoil as I look around? I see friends on the pathway for a divorce. Other's fighting for their life against cancer. Others struggling financially. And that doesn't include all the global issues that upset me like corporate greed that is destroying our environment and our political values. The unjust wars, the devastation from manmade and natural disasters in countries with far fewer resources than our own. I do cry out in my soul, "where is the goodness that you promised? Where is the order in the chaos?" And you know, I don't get a flash of instant answer or I am not overwhelmed by peace.

This particular meditation has been on my mind for several days, and I knew I wanted to write about it because I love the image the song writer captured for us so beautifully, "taste and see God's goodness". But as I have been sitting with this piece, I realized I was missing a major point of this meditation. If it is my heart's deepest desire to experience the goodness, I have to trust. I have to leave all these worries and prayers in his hands. It is one thing to say that, another to do it. I mean really leave the present and the future in his hands, "knowing only that he is good". That means I have to leave my ego behind. I have to give up my false sense of control on my world. I have to step out without seeing and tasting and act as if goodness "is". I even have to give up the picture in my head of what I think goodness looks like. That is a practice I have not mastered yet. But if I can do that, truly trust and give up control, I start to "taste and see." Sometimes I taste and see in tiny ways like hearing my daughter read the book "The Runaway Tortilla" and appreciating the fact she can read and goes to a great school and has a phenomenal amount of resources to help her learn and grow. Like literally walking by my fruit bowl and initially smelling and then devouring wonderful candy sweet white peaches. Like being a part of the Urban Abbey where I know others love and care for me. Sometimes I see God's goodness in big things like one day several months ago when I didn't know how we were going to pay our next mortgage and in desperation I asked God "for a break". Two days later a package with an offer to refinance arrived on our doorstep from our mortgage company. God is good.

I can't make the bad go away for my friends and the world, but I can hold up and name God's goodness if I am open enough to taste and see it. Maybe that is a gift we can all do for each other. Where do you taste and see God's goodness? I would love to see a running blog of God goodness in the world. Take a moment and hit the reply button and write where you "taste and see" God's goodness. I think it will help all of us grow in trust.


P.S. By the way, the Leadership Council has been sharing with you things that have touched us in our own spiritual journeys, but our hope is everyone in the Abbey will feel free to offer stories and learnings from your journey. We can all grow from sharing. Feel free to post as you desire.

[posted by George for Angela]

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

People First, Things Later

Today, as I was reading Brother Jerome's reflection on the portion of the Rule of Benedict (of which I have commented other times), and worrying about two contractors arriving today to work in my house and yard, and the many things of being a homeowner, I was struck by the following:

"That third principle, enunciated here, is 'people first, things later; don't sweat the small stuff and things are ALWAYS small stuff by comparison to souls.'"

What a great reminder: It is not the checkbooks, mortgages, contractors, dirt and all the related hustle and bustle, but the people living in our house, the people we work with, the people we meet today, that are important. As I finished breakfast I gave thanks to our Lord for the new day, and for all the people I hold dear.

What regular habits of reading and meditation have you found to remind you of what is really important? How have these helped you today?


(In case you are interested I am attaching the mailing from Brother Jerome here)
Brother Jerome Leo's posting for September 15th

January 15, May 16, September 15
Chapter 2: What Kind of Person the Abbess Ought to Be

Above all let her not neglect or undervalue
the welfare of the souls committed to her,
in a greater concern for fleeting, earthly, perishable things;
but let her always bear in mind
that she has undertaken the government of souls
and that she will have to give an account of them.
And if she be tempted to allege a lack of earthly means,
let her remember what is written:
"First seek the kingdom of God and His justice,
and all these things shall be given you besides" (Ps. 33:10).
And again:
"Nothing is wanting to those who fear Him."
Let her know, then,
that she who has undertaken the government of souls
must prepare herself to render an account of them.
Whatever number of sisters she knows she has under her care,
she may be sure beyond doubt that on Judgment Day
she will have to give the Lord an account of all these souls,
as well as of her own soul.
Thus the constant apprehension
about her coming examination as shepherd (Ezech. 34)
concerning the sheep entrusted to her,
and her anxiety over the account that must be given for others,
make her careful of her own record.
And while by her admonitions she is helping others to amend,
she herself is cleansed of her faults.


There are two beautiful lessons for us non-abbatial types in this
chapter. The first is a Benedictine view of material goods and the
second consoles us that teaching will hopefully also teach the

The Benedictine view of property is neither complete nor correct
without the principle invoked here. Yes, later on we hear that all
the goods of the monastery must be regarded as if they were sacred
vessels of the altar (and that includes our planet, folks!) We also
hear a lot of attentive prescriptions about poverty and ownership.
Either of these made dogma without the third principle will spell
trouble. That third principle, enunciated here, is "people first,
things later; don't sweat the small stuff and things are ALWAYS small
stuff by comparison to souls."

This adds a perfect balance to Benedictine theology of creation. Ours
is the organic permaculture of souls and bodies and the planet which
nourishes both. I would be the first to sadly admit that, both
corporately and individually, we have a LONG way to go before
realizing this perfect theology, even partially.

Nevertheless, it is there and it is our ideal. The Reign of God is of
necessity our only imperative for preserving all we can. We do so
because all things were created to further and serve that Divine
purpose: the salvation of all, willed by God and the towering human
dignity of each which is won by the creative act of God and the
saving act of Jesus' death for all.

Ecology stripped of true Christian personalism is as hopelessly
pathetic as a rampant materialism that sees every created thing only
in terms of exploitation for profit. It often piques me to see news
stories of people rushing to the beach in crowds to save beached
whales, when many of those so touched seem not to care at all
about the homeless who die on our streets every day. I'm no enemy of
whales, but caring for humans must come first. It is not an either/or
question, it must be the Zen mind of both.

One is not complete without the other. Loving life and living things
really is a seamless garment. Nothing less than the whole will do! We
care for and nurture things because they care for and nurture an intricate
web of which we are the prominent part. Caring for human life and
trashing the environment is a mistaken joke. But so is caring for the
environment while figuring human beings are pretty much on their own!

We must never support the lie that humanity is free to waste and
plunder, but we must never forget, either, that humanity, warts and
all, is undeniably the crown and apex and zenith of the Reign of God.
The feeling, loving heart of a right-minded ecology can only be found
in a right-minded love of humanity. Every divorce of these two is

A good Benedictine will go to careful lengths to avoid damaging or
breaking things, but will treat it lightly if someone else
does by accident: "Oh, that's no big deal. I'll tend to it later."
or "This I can replace, YOU I cannot. Don`t worry about it." See what
I mean? We must be personally very careful of things, but we must
never make others feel small, and least of all in the name of
temporal goods.

The other gem buried here is learning from teaching. Anyone who has
ever taught 5th grade science will tell you that it will teach you
more than the average person at a party knows about the topic.
(Unless the party is given at Massachusetts Institute of Technology!)
It will remind you of a great deal of basic information that you have
long forgotten. Teaching, ideally, keeps one up to date on a subject.
If teaching alone doesn't do that, the questions of the students
usually will!

Teaching, however, is nothing more than a lofty form of doing right.
Doing right by the created world around us will teach us in ways we
never dreamed possible. Hopefully, it will be the same with any of us
who are helping others on the road to spiritual growth. We will learn
by teaching, by doing, by helping. Hopefully, we will also be taught-
and maybe sometimes shamed- by our own words and deeds!

Love and prayers,
Jerome, OSB
Petersham, MA

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Encourage One Another

Dear Abbey Members and Friends:

Following is a reflection by Fr. Don Talafous of St John’s Abbey from a couple of weeks ago.

“Conceivably there are some exceptional individuals, perhaps only inexperienced and too protected, who feel that encouragement is unnecessary. But most of us need it daily. And, fortunately, we often get it from husband or wife, family, friends. That can all change, of course, with the loss of one of these stalwart supports in our life. "Encourage one another while it is still 'today'," Hebrews says (3:12-13). It's unlikely that anyone of us will ever feel that we've had too much encouragement. (It's close to love and compliments; do we ever get enough?) God encourages us through the example of others, through their words, gestures, calls, visits, letters, their taking the time to gauge our feelings. And, more wordlessly, through their example of love, faith, confidence, even joy. Keeping a high and even cheerful confidence in the Lord is helped by like-minded friends, fellow parishioners, associates. God knows there are enough sad people in our world who do not have this confidence. Showing this confidence and joy ourselves is a gift we can give the world.”

For me there has been a lot of sadness in my life lately – death of a good friend, illness of others, loss of employment, unrest and conflict in our families, uncertainty in the world around us. So, the meditation is a reminder of the blessings around me. Our Abbey Community does have people who encourage one another, pray for one another, and try to lessen the burdens of those in distress...and I have been a recipient of that encouragement.

The challenge for me this day is remember that there is a God who loves me intensely and there are people in our Community who reflect that love on me. With that knowledge, I can take on a more optimistic and joyful view of the world. With God’s help and the Community’s support, I can be one of those who encourages and is there to support others in their journey. The wonder of our God is that God loves each of us as a first born. We are all called to reflect that love in our dealings with others. Can we answer that call to be beacons of encouragement in our world?

Shalom and many blessings, George

Friday, September 3, 2010

The Monestary

Dear Community Members,

I apologize for my tardiness in getting out this week's reflection. But this morning I have been blessed by a reality TV Show. I know that is surprising. But yesterday I was contacted by a Priest who asked to learn more about the Urban Abbey because he would like to consider offering such a group to his community in Indiana. In our e-mail exchange he recommended viewing the show, entitled "The Monastery". BBC asked 6 men to live in a Benedictine Monastery for 40 days and 40 nights. I thought I would quickly sample a couple of episodes this morning and move on with my day. But instead, I have watched the first five episodes and have been incredibly blessed, challenged, and inspired by what I have seen. I think each of these episodes have lessons for each one of us. It offers the teaching of Benedict in a medium we can, fortunately or unfortunately relate to, TV. I cannot wait until I have time again to savor these shows. Please take a moment to follow this link to begin your own journey along with these men--

Blessings on your journey,

(posted for Angela by George)