31 May 2009

Pentecost, 2009: Come South Wind by Jessica Powers

"By South Wind is meant the Holy Spirit who awakens love." (St John of the Cross)

Over and over I say to the South wind: come,
waken in me and warm me!
I have walked too long with a death's chill in the air,
mourned over trees too long with branches bare.
Ice has a falsity for all its brightness
and so has need of your warm reprimand.
A curse be on the snow that lapsed from whiteness,
and all bleak days that paralyze my land.

I am saying all day to Love who wakens love:
rise in the south and come!
Hurry me into springtime; hustle the winter
out of my sight; make dumb
the north wind's loud impertinence. Then plunge me
into my leafing and my blossoming,
and give me pasture, sweet and sudden pasture.
Where could the Shepherd bring
his flocks to graze? Where could they rest at noonday?
O south wind, listen to the woe I sing!
One whom I love is asking for the summer
from me, who am still distances from spring.

(1954; 1984)

Pentecost, 2009, The Spirit's Name by Jessica Powers

Dove is the name of Him and so is Flame,
and love can push aside all eager symbols
to be His peerless and His proper name.
And Wind and Water, even Cloud will do,
if it is a heart that has the interview.

But when you are at last alone with Him
deep in the soul and past the sense's choir,
O give Him then the title which will place
His unpredictable breath upon your face:
O Dove, O Flame, O Water, Wind, and Cloud!
(And here the creature wings go veering higher)
O love that lifts us wholly into God!

O Deifier.


27 May 2009

On Hairshirts and Penance, Continuing the Conversation (post #3)

[[Hello Sr. Laurel, I have followed the hairshirt debate in [name of listserve] and on your blog. I have not understood you well enough, I think. I do agree very much with your point about prayer. Growth is the work of The Holy Spirit, whom we encounter primarily by prayer and Communion. On the other hand, your argument seems to say that Christian discipline is unnecessary, even bad (or potentially bad). I will agree that there are pitfalls, but is it proper to conclude that because there is danger in a thing that the thing is to be avoided?

It seems that what you have said is, by analogy, that athletes should not undertake artificial work (lifting weights, etc) in striving to become better athletes. Rather, they should simply make use of the natural work that comes their way. As far as I understood Christian discipline, the point of it is to grow in virtue, which we do by practice. Discipline it is not, and should never be, motivated by dualism. But discipline seems to have its place, properly used and understood, to mortify the appetites and practice our exercise in virtue, in saying "no" to self and "yes" to God. But your argument seems to lead inevitably to the conclusion that even fasting is not good. I know that right now you're saying "Hold On a minute!" I don't have your argument right, which is exactly why I'm writing you. Thank you, Sister

This is really a great question, and without engaging in a copout I need to say first, by way of introduction, that no form of penance is right for everyone (or at every point in a life), and that includes fasting. Can you see a spiritual director advocating fasting for a client with anorexia for instance? What is good praxis for one person may contribute to unhealthiness in another. What assists with the development of virtue in one person may contribute to vice and trigger a more intense struggle with the passions for another. (And by passions I mean those distorting lenses through which we see reality wrongly, like anger, greed, self-loathing, self-righteousness, perfectionism, etc.)

For the person with anorexia, for instance, it might be that many small nourishing meals during a day is penitential. It might be that lots of ice-cream or high protein shakes is one part of genuine penance --- not merely because eating these is difficult, though that will be true, but because it is healthful in this particular case both physically, and spiritually. At the same time therapy will be penitential (as it is for most of us), and again not merely because it is difficult, though that will be true, but because it leads to a more whole and holy life. It humanizes and will contribute to prayer, that is, to a life of genuine attentiveness to the voice and activity of a merciful and loving God in our lives.

In this sense there is nothing artificial about the discipline of eating many small nourishing meals or undertaking the challenge and difficulty of therapy. These are natural forms of attentiveness to one's true needs in such a situation. Note well that simply because something is natural as opposed to artificial does not mean it does not require discipline. When I spoke critically about imposing artificial penances I was not ruling out discipline (which is emphatically NOT the same thing as a phrase I did use, "taking the discipline" -- a form of self-flagellation) or even referring to it; I take the need for discipline in the spiritual life for granted as a necessity --- hence my comment on the possible accuracy of the term ascesis rather than penance in some situations. Indeed I am sure you know yourself how demanding the discipline of regular prayer, journaling, a balanced eremitical (or spiritual) life actually is NATURALLY. In fact, many might be surprised to discover how truly demanding is the discipline of being genuinely attentive, or determining what one actually needs to be truly human in every moment of life. Living fully requires discipline of all kinds, but in all these cases the discipline is holistic and serves the greater goal and aim or telos of one's being.

Moreover, my use of the terms artificial and natural (did I actually use THAT word other than implicitly?) therefore, were used within the context of prayer and authentic humanity. What would be natural would be those things which flowed from or were clearly and genuinely called for by prayer and lead back to it by fostering its regularization, extension, and deepening in my life. What would be artificial is some form of penance which was more extrinsic to and not linked in this way; it would be one which showed no organic relationship with prayer and humanization, or even worse, which flowed from (or was imposed in such a way as to hook into and feed from or even exacerbate) darker or more sinister dimensions of the human psyche, or from drives which were baser and unconscious.

Growth in virtue is certainly something I have been referring to in other words, therefore, for growth in virtue is growth in authentic humanity and all the qualities thereof. And yes, such growth requires praxis which serves to mortify that which fails to serve or is an obstacle to this growth. More importantly, this is a praxis which should integrate the various aspects of the person so that they become an articulate whole (a prayer) reflecting the Word and glory of God. Quite often, however, in the history of penitential practice, I think people have adopted various activities which have no intention or chance of integrating the disparate drives and aspects of the human personality. Above all they were not inspired or a response to grace, and because of this, they were destructive and exacerbated the state of sin (brokenness, alienation, etc) more often than not.

If I were to use your analogy of the athlete, for instance, and if I were to accept that it is desirable for the person to grow as an athlete, then ascesis is a natural consequence of that telos or goal. Weight lifting, eating patterns that are far from normal (the normative pattern), sufficient rest, etc, would all be forms of discipline the person should engage in. These would be not necessarily be artificial or extrinsic to the nature and goal of human athleticism. On the other hand, taking steroids or other forms of actual abuse would not be natural or acceptable forms of ascesis because the person themselves suffer in both short and long terms. Some sort of pure athleticism might be enhanced (an atheleticism of strength, speed, size, with reference to physicality, metabolism and performance per se) but it would not be human athleticism. Instead it reduces human athleticism to the level of enhanced physiological functions achieved at the expense of the accomplishment and reality of the whole person. or, in other words, while the muscles develop and function superbly, they do so only at the expense of the athlete himself (and so, at the expense of true athleticism). I think the analogy can be extended to the use of such things as hair shirts, taking the discipline, the wearing of the cilice, etc. We see this in other areas of life as well; people take drugs to enhance sexual performance and see sexual intercourse as a form of bedroom gymnastics focused on "performing" while divorcing all of this from true marriage or the growth of the spouses together in holiness and wholeness.

So, yes, I agree completely that simply because a thing can be abused does not mean it should be avoided; rather it should be used with genuine care, attentiveness, and insight. However, in a psychologically more sophisticated age and culture we should certainly know to eschew those things which are abusive (or otherwise questionable) in and of themselves. In my understanding of asceticism there is a difference between discipline and abusive behavior or praxis. More, there is a vast difference between praxis which flows from and nourishes prayer and the actual becoming of prayer which is the telos of our vocations to incarnate the Word of God and that which is imposed extrinsically and apart from this context --- especially when such praxis is careless and perhaps wholly unaware of the darker or unconscious drives, urges and dimensions of the human psyche, or when such practice is rooted in a loathing of the body and materiality/corporeality. It is not the abuse of a practice I have decried in my earlier posts, but practice which is of itself abusive and rooted in a lack of esteem for the principle and reality of authentic incarnation.

I hope this helps. Of course, please get back to me if I missed something in your post or raised more questions. Thanks once again for continuing and furthering the conversation.

21 May 2009

On Hairshirts and Penance. Continuing the Conversation

[[ Dear Sister Laurel. Thanks for beginning this conversation. It is a great topic. Too bad you don't allow comments in the blog itself, but email is fine. Here is my question. Why do you think your perspective on penance is such a different one from what is commonly held, as you put it?]]

This is a great question. When I began to write earlier I was aware of a voice in my mind from my first and most influential theology professor. He once said (and he said it several times over the years I studied with him!): "Fasting is not, of itself, essential to Christianity." Throughout the years since I have dealt (even struggled) with that dictum in various ways, but it has never left my consciousness. However, as I continued to write the first post in this thread I began to think that possibly this was one of those elusive but very real areas of Christian praxis where a feminine perspective produces radically different results than a masculine one. (Generally I cringe when I hear someone say, "Oh good, you can add the feminine perspective," or " What we need to hear (in preaching or whatever) is the feminine perspective.")

What I mean by this is that in very broad strokes the feminine perspective is usually more holistic, focused on integration, and less muscular or focused on beating things into submission, for instance. When I was answering questions on an online service once, it was not uncommon to get questions about masturbation. When someone would do so because they were troubled about it (usually it is an adolescent boy, though not always) I have heard priests (who were also queried) give the advice to confront it head on, do battle with the urges, cold-shower or otherwise pound them into oblivion, etc. My approach was and is invariably different: "make sure your life is full and rewarding; make sure there are strong relationships and healthy intimacy. Make sure you are active in school, sports, etc. Do not battle with your urges directly, at least not in the long term; it is a sure way to give them greater power." Over time I have come to think of my approach to these kinds of things as the more feminine approach, and the priest's I mentioned as the more masculine. Of course, there are strands of spirituality where body and spirit are understood to be opposed and even at war with one another, and these too are an issue, but I am not entirely sure these strands are not the more masculine approach themselves. Ordinarily this masculine-feminine division is not one I am comfortable adverting to in most things, but in regard to approaches to penance (and a few other areas), I think it is valid.

The second reason I think my approach is quite different is because of chronic illness. Possibly illness contributes to my sense that prayer and penance form an integrated reality where prayer is primary. I am fairly clear that life itself involves built in penance and obstacles to prayer which need to be negotiated in a way which humanizes. More about this when I look at some of the questions posed with regard to chronic illness.

The third reason is that for many people penance is divorced from prayer. It is not seen as a servant of prayer, nor is enabling or extending prayer the real goal of penance for many. Similarly then prayer is not the thing whch drives penance for many. The simple fact is that many people have relatively rudimentary prayer lives compartmentalized from the rest of their existence. Unfortunately then, penance is equally compartmentalized. By the way, note well that when I refer to prayer here I am referring to 1) the activity and initiative of God within us as well as to 2) the empowered response we make to that initiative. Because of this prayer becomes synonymous with the responsive or obedient life of sonship or daughterhood. Penance, as I noted in regard to Jesus, is inspired, and serves to assist in the consolidation of this identity. (It is striking that Jesus' prolonged fast in the desert is precisely a response to the Word he heard at his baptism:" This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Similarly it is in their own sojourn in the desert that the people of Israel were drawn to consolidate their new identity as free and covenant people in a way where, though not identical to this dynamic in Jesus' life, prayer and penance flowed from and to one another.) This is not the experience of prayer and penance most people have, I think.

If prayer and penance are divorced from one another in this way then penance loses its source of governance and any drive within the human being can become expressed as "penance." Any unpleasant practice can become "penitential" nevermind the results in terms of prayer, humanity, maturation or integration. This is as true when another person is the one requesting or commanding the penance to be undertaken. I also think that sometimes we hope that in a person's life there is a small stream called prayer, and (if we can convince them to undertake it) another stream called penance, and that if someone merely practices both eventually the streams will merge into a large integrated stream and one will have a more adequate spiritual life. What is as likely to occur is that the two streams will remain separated with little influence (or at least, little positive influence, on one another. My own approach to penance always demands there be a clear preference given to prayer, and that the two be seen as integrally related in a demonstrable way.

Hope this helps. As always, if it raises more questions or is unclear in some way, please email me.

20 May 2009

On Hairshirts and Penance in General. Beginning the Conversation

Recently on a list I belong to there was a discussion about hairshirts and the benefits and drawbacks of such practices (along with cilices, disciplines, and the like). It seemed to me the group doing the discussing fell into two camps on the issue, those who thought this was anachronistic and even lacking in spiritual authenticity, and those who were enamored of such practices and struggled to justify them. (I say struggled because again and again I got the impression that this was a practice people wanted to adopt because it was "Carthusian" --- despite the fact that Carthusians have generally dropped the practice of such "mortifications" --- and were looking for ways to validate their use in terms of genuine spirituality.) I also got the impression that time and again these struggles or attempts failed to convince or impress even those who were making them.

Interestingly, the strongest representatives of the "(this is) anachronistic, inauthentic, and even destructive" school of thought were those on the list who lived with chronic illness, while the "enamored" (or at the least, "intrigued") group seemed representative of the healthy or those who were just beginning to deal with illness regularly and wondered if such practices COULD have prepared them to live with their new situations better. (There were two other groups, those who wanted to find a place to buy or otherwise procur a hairshirt because of their nostalgia for things Carthusian, and a very much larger group who eschewed the discussion in distaste after a brief comment, but by definition neither added much in terms of posts to the conversation.)

Larger issues were certainly raised therefore: can these kinds of mortifications assist a person in preparing to live with chronic illness, for instance, what is the nature and purpose of penance itself, is the notion that the suffering that comes to us in daily life is sufficient and need not be supplemented by this kind of practice an adequate approach to penance? And of course, as someone living under a Canon that describes her life as one of assiduous prayer and penance and who wrote and lives a Rule that attempts to do justice to that, how does a diocesan hermit (or at least THIS diocesan hermit) look at all this? What does my own penitential life look like and why? What do I think a genuine penitential life should look like and why? In this post I want to begin a discussion of these and some other questions re penance. I hope people will contribute with questions and comments via email.

I often feel I am coming from a different place than most people on the nature of penance. However, the starting point for reflection, I think, should always be the life of Jesus. When I look at the Scriptures it seems to me that Jesus' penance (for instance his fasting in the desert, etc) was inspired, and it was above all an expression of dependence upon God through which he came to live fully his own Sonship with the Father and therefore, was a way of solidifying and maturing in that. It prepared for and helped create the life of prayer he lived and was. It served that, in fact. In this portrait, the two realities, prayer and penance go hand in hand as closely and naturally related, mutually empowering and nurturing one another.(In fact, in older parts of the tradition, authentic penance is called "body prayer" so essential is the relationship between the two.)

For this reason I tend to look first at prayer, at what it is, etc, and then to look at penance as that which assists prayer and allows it to 1) occur in conscious ways, 2) deepen and 3) become more extensive so that eventually one's whole being is prayer. Whatever truly assists in this process I would look at as penance, despite the fact that such stuff is rarely commonly perceived as penitential. Granted, it may be the better word for penance here is ascesis, but the Canon diocesan hermits live under pairs prayer and penance in a fundamental way, just as it pairs silence and solitude into something which is greater called "the silence of solitude", so I have worked through this to maintain the pairing I think is more essential or foundational than merely convenient.

In my Rule, therefore, since prayer is understood first of all as the activity of God within my life and secondly (and derivatively) as my own empowered or inspired response to that activity --- all of which is what I am made and meant for apart from sin --- I define prayer in terms of those moments of victory God achieves in my life, moments where the relationship between us is made conscious, moments where he is truly sovereign, moments where, in particular, he is truly allowed to love and create me anew from within and without as he wills. Penance then becomes anything which helps to allow, intensify, or extend these moments of victory into the whole of my life, and thus, to make me more fully alive and present to reality in a way which is the goal of my existence. The Rule reads:

". . . Prayer represents an openness and responsiveness to the personal and creative address of God which is rooted in and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Penance seem to me to be any activity which assists in regularizing, integrating, deepening and extending: 1) this openness and responsiveness to God, 2) a correlative esteem for myself, and 3) for the rest of God's creation. While prayer corresponds to those deep moments of victory God achieves within me and includes my grateful response. Penance is that Christian and more extended form of disciplined "festivity" implicating that victory in the whole of life and preparing for the fulfillment of this activity which is to be accomplished only with the coming of the Kingdom in fullness(Eph 1:4; LG 5,48)."

Two things I think stand out in this understanding of penance. The first is the notion of penance as a form of festivity (and I am NOT thinking of festivity for sado-masochists!), and the second is its integrative dimension. Penance is a form of responsive, even celebratory activity which, according to the promptings of the dynamic Spirit of God, allows prayer to become less and less compartmentalized in our lives, while helping us ourselves become more and more fully involved in constant prayer and fully responsive to the action and initiative or a God who would extend his sovereignty. While not everything is to be called penance, anything which is undertaken in response to prayer in order to serve prayer and our own authentic humanity and holiness could justifiably be thought of as penance then.

In this schema then, journaling regularly could be a penitential act. Or, for instance, sometimes a hot shower and timely nap, comforting as they are, are penance. Sometimes a brisk walk or time spent planting something in the garden is. Other times taking a pill I really don't like is --- not because I don't like it or because it produces some suffering (side effects are ALWAYS a reality), but because it SERVES my spiritual life. And in such a schema, appropriate rest and nourishment (especially so long as one is attentive at meals!), dream work, therapy, spiritual direction, recreation, and any number of other things could be considered penitential precisely because they can allow the maturation of prayer and the transformation of the person INTO prayer. Again, above all, in this schema penance is not punitive or geared towards subjugation of this or that dimension of our lives; it is instead celebratory and integrative.

Of course, this notion of penance does not rule out the unpleasant things which are necessary to grow and mature as a person of prayer. I think that is obvious even from some of the examples I chose: taking a pill (or many pills) I dislike, for instance, or therapy, journaling, fasting, etc. However, I think there must be a clear relationship between prayer and penance, and penance must always be the servant of prayer and human maturation. This is the driving consideration for me on what serves as authentic penance. More about the discussion re hairshirts and the questions raised in other posts. . .

13 May 2009

Prayer. Is it really "just talking to God"?

[[Hi Sister. A definition I was given of prayer was that it is " just talking to God." The idea here was that one ought not to get overwrought about language or grammar, etc but simply talk to God. However, this seems to rule a lot out of prayer, including a lot you have said about it. Would you disagree or agree with this definition and why?]]

Generally, as I think you are already aware, I disagree with the definition and I believe that while it can be of limited help to some people at some points in learning to pray, especially to young persons used to rote prayers or those who are overly concerned with "getting (or doing) it exactly right" for instance, it is a definition I would generally avoid. There are several reasons. First, our own talking to God is ALWAYS a response to his active, loving, merciful, and communicating presence, and it is this active presence brought to consciousness that is prayer. Prayer itself is the work of the Holy Spirit who empowers us to listen and respond. In other words prayer is ALWAYS first and foremost something God achieves in us, something God does, not something we do ourselves except secondarily and derivatively. The focus on OUR talking misses this accent on God's action and initiative, sometimes completely. Secondly, the focus on talking often rules out subsequent listening to God as well. Similarly, it rules out other non-verbal forms of prayer as well: running or walking quietly, sitting silently, meditating on Scripture, playing violin (etc), painting, and/or any other activity in which one both listens (or watches) attentively and pours oneself into the activity in a responsive way. Prayer involves listening to and with one's heart. This presupposes the activity of God there and it perceives prayer not only as responsive, but as a centered act of the whole person. Finally, when one defines prayer as "just talking to God" one sets oneself and others up for expecting (and not getting) a correlative response on God's part; one sets oneself and others up for believing either they have not been heard or what they said not been regarded, etc. The dynamic here is "I did my part; why doesn't God do his?" --- because after all, God really does NOT speak to us or answer prayer in a comparable way.

This definition of prayer is reductionistic and personally I can't see simplifying (or reducing) the definition of prayer to "just talking to God" when the difficulty with prayer is not that it involves tricky or hard-to-learn techniques. What is difficult about prayer is learning to trust ever more deeply, and further, learning to perceive the activity of God that goes on all the time within and around us so that we can learn to surrender increasingly to it. Defining prayer in terms of "just talking to God" can encourage self-centeredness and make maturation in prayer quite difficult. It may involve some degree of surrendering to God and communicating from one's heart (ideally it implies these things), but often it means simply pouring things out to God in an assertive way and then leaving once one has had one's say, without any genuine listening. When this is true, "just talking to God," can be a distraction from more authentic or mature prayer. In fact it can prevent us from even suspecting that prayer involves "listening" (that is attending and surrendering) to a God who himself is a constituent part of the activity of our hearts or, that is, to the very core of our Selves.

Another objection I have is that it is a definition that tends to make of God just another buddy we disclose our daily agenda or problems to. While I agree our relationship with God should allow for complete openness in such matters and that friendship with God is something to honor, God is not just another friend we chat or have coffee with (though we may ALSO do these things with him in a conscious way). As I noted briefly above, one definition of prayer I personally use with people (including grade school kids in years 6-8) is, "listening to and with one's heart." Here the accent is on paying attention to what a sovereign God does within us, and also making all we do into prayer. Prayer is clearly something responsive which God empowers, and while it will surely involve pouring out our hearts to God, it is always more a matter of letting him pour himself into our hearts -- and into our world through us. In every way, the intimacy of friendship notwithstanding, prayer is not simply talking to a peer. On the whole then, my objections to the definition you heard and provided is that it assists with a narrow range of problems in prayer but fails to teach the larger truth that prayer is always God's own work in us or therefore, that it demands an attentiveness that goes far beyond "just talking to God." For that reason I believe it creates more problems than it solves.

05 May 2009

Bishop Cordileone "Takes Possession" of His New Diocese

Bishop Salvatore Cordileone was installed as Bishop, or rather "took possession" of the Diocese of Oakland today. (The reference to taking possession is the more precise canonical term for this act; it is not a reference to the type of leadership we expect Bishop Cordileone to exercise!!) In an afternoon which began with a procession of clergy from San Diego and Oakland, continued with the new Bishop banging three times on the doors to the Cathedral of Christ the Light while Cardinal, Bishops, clergy, and people waited within and then proceeded with the reading and witnessing of the official letter of appointment from Benedict XVI and the seating of Bp Cordileone in the chair (cathedra), it was a terrific beginning to a wonderful celebration.

In his homily Bishop Cordileone emphasized that the Bishop is the icon of Christ's wedding with his church and spoke of a service to the diocese defined in terms of John's love as giving one's life for his friends. As he explained, the language of possession includes the phrase "to have and to hold" --- clearly nuptial language ---and he developed the analogy further in light of the Gospel from John 15. He expanded on the image of abiding with in light of Christ and his love; the central associated image here was laying one's life down for one's friends, and it seemed to promise a leadership of genuine Christian intent and motivation. It was a fine homily and promising for the diocese's relationship with her new pastor.

Also, for me personally, it was wonderful to see Archbishop Vigneron once again who came for the installation. In any case, the Diocese of Oakland officially has a new shepherd and we look forward to the future.

Congratulations to Catherine Wright, Consecrated Virgin

Congratulations to Catherine Wright on her consecration under Canon 604 to a life of consecrated virginity for women living in the world. Catherine's consecration was held in the Mission St Raphael in San Rafael, CA last Wednesday (Feast/Memorial of St Catherine of Sienna, Catherine's patron). Archbishop Neiderauer of the Archdiocese of San Francisco presided. Judith Stegman, president of the US Association of Consecrated Virgins attended and witnessed the consecration.

Received into full communion as a Catholic just six years ago, Catherine now ministers by assisting in the RCIA program herself and will continue to do that as newly consecrated spouse of Christ. During the ceremony Catherine was given a gold wedding band (above) and a copy of a Book of Hours (Liturgy of the Hours or Divine Office, cf below) to indicate both her new state of life and part of the responsibilities she assumes as a result. Undoubtedly prayer is seen as a central aspect of the vocation and during the Archbishop's homily, which was mainly instructive of what Catherine undertakes in accepting this vocation, he provided a litany of the ways Catherine would pray in service of the church from this day forward. At the same time, the consecration under Canon 604 is given to women living in the world, and this is where they carry out their ministry.

Although Consecrated Virgins aren't religious, are not called Sister, and make no vows (they pledge themselves to perpetual virginity but this is not considered a vow), they do give (dedicate) themselves completely to Christ as spouse and assume a special place of service in their dioceses and parishes. The wedding ring is the single outward sign of this dedication and correlative consecration while the Rite is replete with wedding imagery. Ordinarily Consecrated Virgins are also allowed to reserve the Eucharist in a tabernacle in their own homes or apartments, just as hermits and religious houses are allowed to do. (This requires the Bishop's permission, and is not automatic, by the way. Not all Bishops grant permission.) Along with Canon 603 (consecrated or diocesan hermits), Canon 604 (order of consecrated virgins) is one of the renewed but very ancient forms of consecrated life in the Revised Code of Canon Law which came out in October (Advent), 1983.

All good wishes to Catherine as she begins this new (state of) life! It is the start of an awesome adventure.

03 May 2009

In Memoriam, Michael E Miller, Oblate OSB Camaldolese

Occasionally, by the grace of God, we meet people who are genuine Christians and even mystics. They have suffered with all the foibles and sometimes the illnesses that afflict us human beings routinely, and are very clear that God in Christ has transformed them and their lives. They still have those illnesses and yet joyfully live a full, whole, and holy life in Christ because they have learned the truth of Paul's affirmation about God, "My grace is sufficient for you; my power is made perfect in weakness." They live lives of deep and abiding prayer, becoming God's own prayers in this world, and in everything they are and do they manifest the hope that the Church proclaims as our heritage as adopted Sons and Daughters during this Easter season especially.

Michael Miller was such a man. Michael was a Camaldolese Oblate and I met him several years ago at Incarnation Monastery before I had affiliated with Transfiguration. Since he lived in San Francisco, and I in a hermitage across the Bay, occasionally we would meet for coffee and conversation in Border's bookstore in SF. Other times we would see each other at Incarnation for Office, Mass, or quiet days, and I particularly remember one dinner we celebrated as we, another couple of Oblates and the Monks from Incarnation went out to mark the Feast of St Romuald. Michael and I shared a common interest in things Camaldolese and Benedictine, spirituality more generally, and more particularly the notion of a vocation to chronic illness. He had struggled with alcoholism in his youth, with AIDS the rest of his life, and, since I have known him, with respiratory problems compromising some of his abilities.

He was known for his gentleness, his deep wisdom, and his abiding compassion and lack of judgmentalism. He was also known for his wonderful sense of humor and capacity for conversation. He was a talker (!!) --- but with a great capacity for listening! It was with sadness that I learned of his death this last Wednesday. He was a friend, and I will miss him though I believe that he is present still watching over our Camaldolese interests and concerns. I know too that he read this blog, so it is an honor to remember him here. I know he would have laughed to see an article about himself here --- and he had a truly wonderful laugh.

For those in the SF area, especially Oblates, Michael's funeral will be at 2:00pm at Holy Redeemer Church in San Francisco. The address is 100 Diamond St in the Castro (about a mile from the 16th/Mission BART station or just a couple of blocks from the Castro muni station). Visitation will be held starting at noon.