Saturday, July 31, 2004

Let nature touch you and discover deeply who you are: "All you creatures, bless the Lord!"

My classmate, friend, and gracious host, Fr. Brian had a Baptism yesterday, and I accompanied him to the family home for the little reception afterwards. I am always in awe of the artistry with which maritimer pastors cultivate relationships with the people they serve - it really is as though they become a member of each family into which they enter or with whom they journey along the multifaceted paths of life. I marvel at how different we are, and at how the Lord is pleased to communicate Himself to people through rather than despite those differences.

Still, it's summer for him too, and I have noticed signs of his tiredness; so I was glad to give him reason to leave early, for my plan for the late afternoon was to jump into the sea water nearby. The family recommended a pebble beach closer than the provincial park, which I hope to visit the next few days, and we went there. It gave onto the Northuberland Strait and is actually about midway along the western coast of the island. Brian has to watch his exposure to the sun and was content to sit on a towel and spend time with the Lord, with the help of his Breviary.

For my part, I put on some lotion, went down to the water's edge, did some warm ups and stretches, and waded out. To my amazement, the first few steps I went down a few feet, but then found myself back up on a sandbar - it was like walking on water - with inches of water as the waves of the surf left ripple lines parallel to the shore every few inches in the sand below. About 100 meters out, I found depth of water I could swim in, and soon found myself over my head. Allowing the surf to carry me, I was transported back in time as it were to all the other moments as this, on vacation, where I swam out into the waters of a lake - such as at Nova Nada Hermitage years ago in North Kemptville, Nova Scotia, or as on the beaches of Eastern Point in East Gloucester, Massachusetts, where I went for an annual directed and silent retreat in 1982 and from 1985 to 1989 - and even now as I write these lines I sense myself caught up into the hymn of the creatures: "Seas and rivers, bless the Lord, you fishes and creatures moving in the waters, bless the Lord!"

Though we forget it, living as we do in a world where we have so much power to control our environment and living conditons through the myriad buttons we have to press - such as these very keys connected to the hardware and wires that are bringing these words to you - we are each of us living creatures, sturdy yet fragile, just as dependent on our Creator for our next breath as all the creatures around us. The warm, refreshing sea water washed all worry and concern from my limbs, and cleared my mind so well it seemed to find itself in communion with my heart and spirit. We were one, one with the One from whom we come, to whom we are returning, and who holds us in being moment by moment by the sheer stability of his will.

Though I was in the water for only 20 minutes or so - did I swim longer than 15? - perhaps I was there 30 or more.... I lost track of all time.... the peace that came over me enfolds me still. What a blessing it is anytime we allow ourselves to live a more natural moment, a more natural hour, a more natural day, a more natural life.

In those moments, You seem so obviously present, our Father and Creator. We seem so naturally to find ourselves walking along in the company of Jesus, your Son; yet in a manner that is so innocent and unselfconscious - it is only later, such as now, that in looking back in order to relate the blessed moment to another - that we become aware that You are here, and our heart and soul, body and mind, raise up to You grateful expressions of praise and gratitude! Blessed are You, Lord God of all Creation, in the orderly multitude of your creatures, and blessed are You in your blessed trinity of Persons! Glory be to You, forever and ever. Amen!

Sublime moments, yet apparently so trivial, like today. I went shopping for some pasta sauce and local fish, finding scallops and shrimp. We had gone out for supper last evening to the North Port Pier Restaurant, after we came back from the beach and showered. We could observe the huge herons standing in the water, fishing, motionless, ready to strike with lightning speed. We had a wonderful time, and slept well. This morning, we kept separate routines: I prayed while Brian worked on his homilies for a wedding and Sunday. I then went for a long walk back to the pier, met a fisherman and RCMP officers, came back for a shower and breakfast, and then went shopping. It was so relaxing, such a natural thing to do, to pan cook the scallops and shrimp, add them to the simmering sauce, cook the pasta, and sit down to a late lunch. Trivial, yet sublime moments of life.

It seemed a natural thing to do for me to follow up on my offer and celebrate the 4:30 Mass for Brian at the St. Bernadette chapel some 15 km away and preach extemporaneously. It was a pleasant, living connection with the 85 or so folk there; as was the light dinner with an elderly couple who have been offering hospitality to the priests for decades. Lord, bless them! So, here we are, coming to the end of another day, aware that I am glad to be alive. Thank you, Father.

Friday, July 30, 2004

Seeing both in myself, I can be patient with others: in the sublime and trivial moments of the day we find both joy and pain.

Summertime is really cool, even when it's hot! It seems so natural to take more time than usual to just be glad to be alive. I find my mind boiling with thoughts and my heart overflowing with emotions, and these days, one big thread through it all is gratitude. Gratitude for the priests I have been privileged to live and work with these past ten years. I'm glad that in more recent years I have more deliberately taken the time to enjoy their company and share more openly my thoughts and feelings in this ongoing adventure of life, Christian faith, and priesthood.

Just last week we enjoyed a meal and fellowship and our gratitude for the awesome presence of the Lord in our midst. We have both rediscovered the joy of spending more time in the Divine Presence each day, and I have been realizing how much I have missed doing that. In my previous assignment, I lived under the same roof with the Lord, and found it easier to just go downstairs to the chapel. On coming to Becket, I initially tried praying in the church, but found it more difficult - cold in winter, noisy with the equipment below, awkward with the furniture arrangement - I guess I'm a bit weak in accepting sacrifice and inconvenience. In any event, our new arrangement just makes it a lot easier and somehow a more natural part of the day.

The realization that is at the moment capturing my imagination - as you saw in the title of this posting today - is that we all seem to have some difficulty dancing with the confluence of the sublime and the trivial in our daily lives. The currents of joy and pain, delight and anguish, flow through our days as currents of warm and cold water do in the summer waters of lake or river as we swim along to refresh ourselves. Think of yourselves who are married - how well do you dance with the juxtaposition of sublime moments of communion with your spouse and the changing of diapers, getting up in the middle of the night in response to a child's call, finding yourself in the middle of outbreaks of sibling rivalry, the dynamics of your workplace, and the endless stream of other apparently trivial happenings of life? I have known people who are the most graceful of dancers, slipping in and out of the sublime and the trivial, as though they had become one - the trivial befriending the sublime, and the sublime penetrating the trivial.

For me, it's seeing the Spirit of the Lord touch and change hearts one moment, and the next moment opening mail, or shuffling paper, participating in a meeting, doing errands, or trying to grapple with the reluctant spirits of folks who - for various reasons - don't want to "play the game" of parish life: "I don't need to go to church!" or "We don't need to go to those meetings!" or "Why do we have to do this program, why can't you just give us what we want? (sacraments, or whatever it is)" I remember Jesus addressing the Pharisees and saying - about the fact that they were critical of both Himself and John the Baptist - that they were like children shouting to one another across the square, "We played a song for you and you wouldn't dance, we played a dirge for you and you wouldn't weep." What can you do when people just don't want to play?

How are we to understand the sharp contrast between those who avidly respond to the slightest word or suggestion from us as though they are being touched by the Lord himself, and those who seem to feel they have a direct line with God and consider us simply as obstacles crimping their style or getting in the way? Actually, we can understand these differences in others, because we have experienced them in ourselves; so the real question that is asking itself within me is, "How can I dance better between the sublime response of those who seem more awake to the breath of the Spirit of God, Lord and Giver of Life, and the apparently trivial reaction of those who seem more enclosed in the concerns of their own flesh, family, or individual lives?"

If I am getting in the way of God's grace and will, then I look to Him for help and guidance in getting out of his way. In any event, these days, I am so grateful for his inspiration, which has brought me back everyday into his True Presence in the Blessed Sacrament, where I can just be with Him and pour out all that is whirling around within me - both the trivial and the sublime. After all, Jesus is the Lord of the dance, and the Gospels are eminent testimony to just how gracefully He danced with both the trivial and the sublime while He was in the flesh before its wondrous transformation and glorification in the resurrection. Thankfully, He has no intention of keeping the dance to Himself, but quite eagerly instructs all who come to Him, becoming their help and their delight.

It has been almost 7 weeks since I set up this blog site and posted five days in a row. Since then, I was busy with tying up loose ends in anticipation of a month vacation to be immediately followed by an almost 4 month sabbatical. Over those final weeks, as various files and activities came to mind that required a clean handoff, I sent to whoever would want to carry on whatever I had done or whatever information had been gathered. In the end, there was a flurry of activity that caused me to delay packing and leaving; so that instead of taking 2 days to drive to PEI, I did it all in one day: leaving at 7:30 am on Tuesday and arriving at Tignish, the "far west" of the island at 9:00 pm (10:00 AT).

Speaking of the trivial and the sublime, last week I had either a local blood clot or burst capillary on the front of my left leg below the knee, which the young doctor at the Lakeshore ER said was nothing to be concerned about; as it was not on the "highway" either to or from the heart. So now I'm on therapeutic baby-dose aspirin. Then Wednesday night, my friend Fr. Brian had a gall bladder attack during the night. I had concelebrated a healing Mass which happens in the Cathedral parish of St. Dunstan's in Charlottetown and we had gone out for a snack and Guinness afterwards. We both had a scare within a week, remembering our own fragile human flesh, while we see the Lord showering his people with healing grace! Of course, we realize with deep gratitude and devoted love for the Lord that the vessel that dispenses life-giving fluid can never avoid betting wet itself. Blessed be our God and loving Father, who so tenderly cares for each and every one of his children!