25 August 2013

Returning from Retreat

Walkway beneath my room
Well. last week at this time I was on retreat at Old Mission Santa Barbara. It was a sort of amazing time --- unlike any retreat I have ever made before --- and full of coincidences, unexpected synchronicities, and the like.

I ran into a Sister I had known from graduate school in the 1970's but had not seen since; she now lives and works where I grew up --- a place very few people I know are familiar with. I was able to catch up with a Sister friend who worked with me as Vicar for Religious (Vocations Director?) when I first was becoming a diocesan hermit, and in a number of ways found threads and notes from my entire life coming together in new ways. She was celebrating the 46th anniversary of her first profession the day we got together; I was celebrating the 46th anniversary of my baptism that same day. There were innumerable other coincidences. Most were not significant by themselves but together they were something else! One prayer period, because of the little coincidences and "returns" of pieces of my life, all I could do was laugh and say to God, "I don't know what you are doing, but I know it is something big and I am definitely along for the ride!"

Window of my room is second from right
One of the things it was nice to do was to spend time in a Franciscan house once again. I learned that Sisters from the congre-gation I joined in the late 60's were actually buried at the Mission and was able to visit that private burial space as well as that of the Friars. There are highs and lows in this living Franciscan tradition and there were highs and lows associated with the Old Mission --- just as there are highs and lows in my own history.

In this retreat I was reintroduced to all of these --- from the residuals of the problem of sexual abuse at an associated seminary (there is a memorial to victims on the property now), to the treatment of the Chumash Indians "in the name of proclaiming the Gospel" and the story of the lone woman of San Nicolas Island (who was brought to the Mission and died within two months after surviving 18 years on her own --- she had been abandoned there when all the Chumash were relocated), to praying at the crypt of an old friend, to re-meeting an aging theology Professor of mine at St Mary's, Moraga (he's still writing books and has one coming out in December), to spending time with a Sister who strikes me as Franciscan to her bones and exudes both the joy, the honesty (transparency), and the pervasive and profound prayerfulness I associate naturally with Franciscanism.  I also met several Friars I had not met before, a couple of whom were simply delightful and most all of whom were tremendously welcoming. (If you ever get a chance to meet Fr Joachim, give him a hug for me.)

The Eucharistic liturgy at the Mission was wonderful. Sunday was especially beautiful and the small choir added two significant hymns to the hymns the entire assembly sang. It was very well done, and the cantor (part of the choir) was really stunning. Fr Larry gave a homily partly in the form of a poem he wrote; he also expanded on it in his comments. We had a chance to talk afterwards (lunch) about the way writing a poem demands and assists one to get right to the heart of the reading. I was surprised to hear he had come to writing poetry just a few years ago, because he is certainly accomplished. Daily Mass was held in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and, since I was up at 4:00am anyway, I was also able to go over to the Poor Clare monastery a block or so from the Mission for a slightly earlier Mass if I desired. (Another coincidence --- because they keep coming even now that I am home --- a hermit I know, herself a former Poor Clare, made her retreat prior to perpetual vows as a diocesan hermit at this same house!)

One drawback I found was having tourists on the grounds at the same time retreatants are there. It can be noisier than some might like. At the same time it is a living Mission after all, and that is something that I found very cool even so. Private areas have gates and ropes to mark them off, but  to move from my room to the Blessed Sacrament Chapel (where I most liked to pray), for instance, meant moving through some public areas/walkways. Unfortunately, folks thought I would know where various statues and other things were located. Wrong! It took me a full day to find out where the front of the Mission was --- I discovered I had been within ten feet of it several times (once I was within 3 ft of it) and had not even known that! By the third day I was a little less clueless --- and then there was a power outage which meant needing to find a new route to my room. (I used the wrong staircase to get downstairs and though I set off no alarms, I did have to get someone help me lock that stairway door again!) But next time I go to Old Mission Santa Barbara, I will be an old hand and know the whole layout and schedule --- and a lot of the people as well!

I have been reading Ilia Delio's The Humility of God  as a piece of this time and am a bit surprised by how profoundly Franciscan my own theology is --- ordinarily I think of it as Pauline or Markan, and of course it is definitely that. In any case, the darker moments of Franciscan history aside, it is wonderful to find lived examples of the paradox of Franciscan (or Christian) joy at the heart of a faith rooted in the crucified One. I am resolved to do more reading in specifically Franciscan authors! Delio's work is something I have read while working through theologians on the relationship of faith and religion, but I have not really read her specifically Franciscan stuff. Time to rectify that!

Meanwhile, back at the hermitage; it has taken me time to catch up with my life here again, or at least to begin to catch up! The first day back I simply slept a lot. Friday I did a service at the parish, gave a reflection on the Gospel from the day before (All (made up of the many) are called, few allow themselves to be chosen!), and had clients in the afternoon. I am almost up to speed again but there is still SO much to process!! As I wrote to my delegate Thursday, the bottom line in all this is that nothing is ever really lost; God simply does not allow that, Jesus testifies to it, and the Gospels remind us, [[Seek ye first the Kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you. . ]]. Finally, thanks to those who emailed me about the blog or with questions regarding discernment and formation of diocesan hermits. If I haven't already answered you, I will be doing so soon.