Thursday, April 22, 2010

First Do No Harm

This is a poetic, moving, simple story:  A parable.

A counterpoint to so much bad news:  Good News.  

A tenacious documentary film maker.  An unusual subject:  A former Cistercian monk, who has spent 50 years building a Cathedral - of his own design, by his own hands.   The story is told in simple, moving shots of the old man, walking through his creation. What a poignant testimony to the human heart and soul!

Watch this first
                                    Click on Video for larger version.

     The power of love and devotion.  Life's work of one man. 

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Memory Eternal

"So we do not lose heart.  Even though our outer nature is wasting away, our inner nature is being renewed day by day."        [St. Paul,  2 Corinthians 4:16]
My mother loved picnics.  Especially all day picnics.  Her picnic basket was organized, her picnics planned and executed without a hitch - we kids only aware of days of total freedom at the beach or a state park.  Picnics involved rising at the crack of dawn, Sunday Mass if it was Sunday, driving to the beach or park, perhaps stopping for fresh-made donuts,  selecting our picnic spot long before some got out of bed.

Picnic days were rare times when dad cooked breakfast.  Outdoors.  While mom laid out the treats she had prepared.  Breakfast treats.  Lunch treats.  All-day-long - as much as you could eat - treats.  For us kids these were days of near-total indulgence.

She loved those picnics!  She must have prepared for them meticulously - for days.

The summer she got her driver's license - I think I was 9 - she took us swimming nearly every day.  She loved the water.  She loved swimming, sunshine, beaches, lakes, canoeing.  I bet the all-day picnics reminded her of camping trips to northern Michigan in her childhood.

Those were happy times.  And she had her sad times too.  But so much of what was difficult in her life has now been altered by the transformation of how she met her death.

People die in different ways.  We choose our dying.  If dying marks a life, hers was remarkable!

When it came her time to die, it seemed she met that willingly, indeed at times impatiently.  She knew it long before it came.  And tried to tell us, was frustrated we seemed not to understand, frustrated too at her growing inability to formulate sentences, find words for what she longed to say.  Till the last.  When finally we knew.  When we could let her know it was ok to go.  When she could manage words like:  "dying... good."  She wanted to go home and the word "home" confused her in the end.  I think she tried to tell us she was sorry about that - sorry she was going home and that meant separation.

In the end her dessicated body was nearly weightless, her rib-cage visible.  Like a birdcage with her soul inside - waiting to fly free, on those peaceful last days when her eyes no longer opened and words no longer came, her spirit kept growing and I felt we were communing - soul to soul.

I was moved by that.  The transformation that was happening.  She, in another space.  The world, set aside.  We,  in this in-between space.  Waiting.  As she transformed:  A woman never overtly religious - who had avoided church in later years - whose soul began to shine as she was dying.  Welcoming communion, saintly, even angelic, when I brought it - those last times before she died.

I was not there in her last moments - when the cage opened and her spirit soared - as I was driving to see her that last time.

She looked beautiful in death.

In dying, she had given me her soul.  Yet death held more:  In death, I felt her spirit with me.  Drawing me into that resurrection space she'd entered:  An eternal picnic, communing with the saints.

[Words prepared for her funeral on what would have been her 88th birthday:  4.21.2010]

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Brother Pierre ~ Genuine Shepherd

On this Holy Thursday, when Christians everywhere recall the teachings of Jesus related to servant leadership, on a day when the RCC remains mired in scandal and crisis, I offer this timeless lesson:

Bishops ~ Take a Lesson from Brother Pierre:

Brother Pierre is a true shepherd, someone I have known for 35 years, though we've rarely spoken.  I've always respected his contemplative silence, yet I feel I know him well enough to commend him to you as an example of how to be a good shepherd:

Brother Pierre is not ordained.  He's never given a sermon.  Unless you count the way he's lived his life.  So far as I know he has no shepherd's staff, no visible authority.  But you can learn all you need to know from the photo above and one more below. 

Look long and carefully at this photo.  Look at it like Sister Wendy looks at art:  Set aside your ego and allow the photo to speak with its own integrity to your innermost heart. 

Notice how he interacts with the sheep.  You can see he loves them.  He doesn't lord it over them.  He reaches out to gently hold the lamb.  He looks the sheep right in the eye - because he's kneeling down.  Among them.  You can see the adult sheep trusts him with her lamb.  You can see he's prepared to "feed her lamb".  The sheep listens attentively - for she trusts him.  And he speaks her language.  Like St. Francis.  His tone of voice and his Presence carry the message.

Like David, another shepherd before him, he also plays the harp and sings psalms.

I wish you could hear him play:  "Like the deer that yearns for running streams / So my heart yearns for you, my God."

Mount Savior Monastery saved my soul.  But right now you Bishops are breaking my heart:
You, who seem ever ready to excuse and hide the crimes of "your own" and all too eager to caste stones at the flock.   Instead of showing love and a place at the table, you have forfeited your moral authority.

You're trying to regain that.  But you're going about it in exactly the wrong way.  You're trying to impose your will on people - people who have every right to question that will - tarnished as it is by your flagrant hypocrisy over decades, even centuries, of covering up for predatory shepherds. 

Let me give you a piece of advice as a former teacher of young children and therapist who has worked with many victims of abuse:  You can only exercise authority if you first establish relationships of love.  Unless your flock sees the true face of love (what Paul called, "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ") you have lost them.  And once even children experience "discipline" lacking in love, they become traumatized, gun-shy, mistrustful - and you have lost them. 

You have lost your trustful flock just as surely as you have lost your moral authority.  And don't be fooled by the sycophants!

There is really only one way to regain trust and moral authority - IF that is still possible.  And that is the way of changing your own hearts and minds.  Changing your tune.  Changing your behavior, your tone of voice, your habit of looking down on people.  Learning instead, from Brother Pierre,  to kneel and look them in the eye.  One by one.  With compassion.  Seeking forgiveness.  Learning to serve and not be served.

Go out among the poor.  Go out barefoot and in rags.  Or make it sandals and one set of plain clothes.  Make it your task to listen.  To love each person you meet.  Recognize your common humanity with each, especially with each suffering soul.  Hear the suffering hidden in each heart.  See the yearning.  Don't preach.  Let your veneration for their suffering be your healing balm.  Your listening heart.  Look with eyes of compassion - devoid of judgment.  Forgive everyone you come across.  Without asking any questions.

And when you can do this - then and only then - might there be a hope of regaining the lost trust, the lost respect of those whom you have betrayed.  Failing that, all you have to offer will sound as empty platitudes, no more than a musical instrument completely out of tune.  Harsh.  Discordant.  Annoying.

[Repost on Holy Thursday: from an original blog of mine at TPM Cafe]