24 September 2014

First day of Retreat: Traveling Light, Being Who I am.

One of the pieces of my life, one of the most important dynamics at play and one of the virtues I try to cultivate is transparency. Perhaps that is a contemporary way of speaking about the radical honesty we call humility. In any case, the habit, the cowl or other prayer garment requires that I be aware of any pretense that creeps into things. I am here at the Old Mission Santa Barbara for a week's retreat and that means that when I move from my room to the chapel (or elsewhere) to pray I wear my cowl over my habit. Now, there is nothing unusual in this really, monks and nuns and hermits have been doing it for centuries and centuries in the exact same way day in and day out. But, though I wear the cowl every day at the hermitage and always at liturgical prayer, moving from place to place in it is unusual for me! Add to that the public character of the mission setting and the effect is a little unsettling. And amazing. I am aware every day that I am part of a living tradition, that I do not need to pretend to anything; I simply need to be who I am. Today, I woke (late for me!) with the mission bells and walked in cowl and sandals through the mission on stones that were worn over centuries by all manner of persons. It was hard not to feel a little moved by the whole experience.

And concerned. At least a little at first --- about pretense and fantasy. Imagining the history of this place and the uniqueness of my own garb (though the Friars wear robes over their street clothes too, mine is clearly NOT Franciscan) it was easy to hear in my mind the slap of many friars' sandals and the quiet swish of monastic robes as I walked to chapel for Morning Prayer and Mass. It took a moment before I could actually realize afresh that I am a living part of this tradition, both the Franciscan, the monastic (which Franciscanism itself is not), and the eremitical. And at that point I let go of any remaining concern or self-consciousness. At that moment I prayed in gratitude to God who has allowed me in my own brokenness and littleness to be a graced part of this living stream. I was myself in this new place (it is only the second time I have made retreat here) and was at home.

That sense of being at home, of simply being oneself in Christ and the complete sufficiency of that, was echoed in the Gospel where the disciples are sent forth and told to take nothing extra with them. Our homilist, Fr Charles, drew a lesson from it for us: travel light. Heartache? Troublesome memories? Incomplete plans or unresolved problems? Leave them here (in the chapel and with the others here) today and travel light! (Charles told another great story about a passionate if na├»ve postulant too which I will save for another time!) So, I have come here, been warmly welcomed by old theology professors (we will make some time to get together for a while this week), old friends (ditto!), and new ones as well; God has welcomed me too with his little nudges about authenticity, transparency, and the wonderful reminder of how graced is my existence as a part of this vital confluence of traditions. How strange (well, wonderfully surprising -- yet again) to think that I never really ceased being Franciscan even as I took on Camaldolese Benedictinism, and how strange to find I really am at home. That sense of belonging wherever we go seems to me to be part of the heart of contemplative prayer and especially of Jesus' injunction to "pray always". In this silence I will be and become more and more the word --- indeed, the song --- I am called to be. What a gift to be able to BE here -- in every sense of that verb!

I will blog when I can and as the Spirit moves me. Writing helps me pray (not least by opening my mind and heart occasionally to the wider world I carry in my heart) so I will play/pray it by ear. I ask that you remember me in your prayers as well.