I spent the weekend at St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, MA. It was a great weekend and I now find myself in a transitional space somewhere between Compline and the Superbowl. It was a retreat rich in metaphors too, at one point, requiring the aid and assistance of a monk, priest, and a retreatent to free my car from a snow drift.
It was very also very cold in Spencer, but this meant the rare opportunity for us (eight retreatents) to be shepherded through the cloisters to the Abbey Church for the Liturgy of the Hours.
I took two books from my own library as sustenance. The first was God and the New Haven Railway by George Dennis O’Brien and the second was When God Says No by Daniel Lanahan. I finished the former, but didn’t get a chance to re-read the latter.
I also play my own version of library roulette at the Abbey bookstore and “found” a wonderful little title by Jean-Pierre de Caussade called Abandonment to Divine Providence. This is a beautiful book and it’s gift unloosed in the first pages:
“At first I suffered greatly under a load of business worries, which of course are wholly at variance to my love of silence and solitude. But God came to my aid and gave me the grace to stay quite uninvolved in all these affairs. My spirit stays free. I am not plagued by many visitors, because I myself pay visits only when duty and sheer necessity make them essential. My fellow Jesuits, who know my feelings, finish their business with me as soon as possible. They are well aware that it is not pride or misanthropy which make me shun society, so not one of them objects to my behavior and some of them even appear edified by it.”
My notes from the weekend are still mostly indecipherable and private, however, there are a couple of quotes from my reading material worth transcribing. The first couple are from George Dennis O’Brien:
“Humankind is not free to do even small, unspectacular things, but it is wholly free to give value both to what can and cannot be done with ten fingers and a sharp pencil. Humans have a story to play in which the principal motif is freedom and dignity. Nothing has meaning for humanity except as it is set into that story. Any human limitation from death to drowsiness waits for humanity to assign it a value. In my pursuit of fame or sainthood, I will decide whether sleep is a blessed relief or a bothersome bore. Is it not the fact of sleep that plays in the human story, it is the value. Thus, in sovereign freedom, humanity can turn aside from death, deity, or taxes and claim they play no meaningful role in the story. They occur, but they reveal nothing about the meaning of my life, which is devoted to my craft and sullen art.”
“In the natural end of death and the historical circumstance of abandonment, Jesus refuses to accept these events as definitive of the meaning of his life. Jesus triumphs over nature and history by that refusal. In this interpretation Jesus is an exemplar – perhaps even a unique exemplar – of the spiritual triumph of humankind over the lordship of nature and history. We are all called to a similar moral heroism.”
“The scientist transcending his untenured assistant professorship into the world of eternal truth, proof, and rational argument; the Stoic emperor or slave seeking a tranquil mind as the empire collapses; the Epicurean gardener walled into a quietude of nature while the great world wages without; the playboy/playgirl abandoning the cares of office in the timeless moment of erotic bliss―all these good folk, if they adopt their escape mechanism as the meaning of human life, have decided that mere humanity either cannot or ought not be saved. What is shocking about the Bible is that it suggests a salvation for humankind while its deity chooses human history.”
“If one chooses neither to retreat from the world nor to spruce it up to better standards, what is the alternative? What would it mean to “affirm the world”? One might imagine an attitude of quietude and acceptance. It would have to be a special sort of acceptance, however, not the quietude of despair.”
“To play in this game we must accept a set of theological rules. In this game we are necessarily involved with godliness. The name of the game is “Make a Life.” Act, re-collect, and reposition acts so that at the end life has been more than a tourist’s itinerary. Winning the game is being somebody. Losing is refusing to be somebody or faking it. For humans, being some-body seems to require being a definite or “restricted” somebody. We play this game in the valley.”
The last two are from Jean-Pierre de Caussade:
“Consider your life, and you will see that it consists of countless trifling actions. Yet God is quite satisfied with them, for doing them as they should be done is the part we have to play in our striving for perfection.”
“For, to him, everything is the same, equally useful or equally useless. Without him everything is nothing, and with him nothing is everything. We may meditate, indulge in contemplation, pray aloud, practice interior silence, live an active life or one withdrawn from the world, and though they may all be valuable, there is nothing better for us than to do what God wants at any particular moment. We must regard everything else with complete indifference and as something worth nothing at all. As we see only God in everything, we must take or leave all things according to his will, so that we neither live, nor develop, nor hope except as he ordains, and never try to use things which have neither power nor worth except through him.”
I endeavor now to untangle my notes and compare them to the ones made before my silence and solitude with the monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer.
***Update: The storm was kind of a bust and ridiculously over-hyped (shocker)***
We’re expecting a little snow here in New England so I biked to the diner for breakfast and by the beach expecting limited “obstruction-free” cycling opportunities over the next couple of days.
Some musical accompaniment for various blizzard activities:
(2) Change The World
(2) Card Games: Touring from Winning Moves Games
(3) Kingdom Hearts III???? (The Know It All: January 9, 2015)
(4) A quote from Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon:
“…yet there is no avoiding time, the sea of time, the sea of memory and forgetfulness, the years of promise, gone and unrecoverable, of the land almost allowed to claim its better destiny, only to the claim jumped by evildoers known all too well, and taken instead and held hostage to the future we must live in now forever.”
(1) The Southampton Way (via Men in Blazers)
We’re Southampton, a club built on faith from the very beginning. We have our home, and our choir. We have our beliefs, our own way of doing things that guides everything we do. We don’t just buy success, we breed it, we don’t take shortcuts, we earn it. Every second of every minute of every day. We’ve been to the edge of the abyss, and come back stronger. Because whatever the pressure, however great the temptation, we never lose faith. We never settle, we never stop, we keep moving forwards. We are the Saints. It’s not just a name, it’s who we are. We will be in that number.
(1) THE DØ – Dust it Off (YouTube)
(2) A couple of quotes from The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera:
“What is a gatekeeper to do if not to warn of what she’s seen? Gatekeepers aren’t optimistic or pessimistic, Prudencia. They’re either awake or asleep.”
“I’ve been told that you value delicacy and yearn for beauty. So seek beauty, Miss Prim. Seek it in silence, in tranquility; seek it in the middle of the night and at dawn. Pause to close doors while you seek it, and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t reside in museums or in palaces. Don’t be surprised, in the end, you find beauty to be not…”
(1) A Feast for the Guilt-Ridden Guest: Exploring complex themes with cunning wit and elaborate metaphors in George Herbert’s ‘Love (III)’ (WSJ)
“But Herbert is most dear to us because his poems suggest an intimacy of discourse between the poet and his creator. Not for Herbert the attitude struck by Donne, who can begin a poem by telling off a heavenly body (“Busy old fool, unruly sun”). The speaker in Herbert’s poems is marked by an unforced humility—he may be the only poet in the body of English poetry who is believable not only when he addresses the divinity but when he transcribes the responses he gets.”
(2) A quote from The Awakening of Miss Prim by Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera
“I still recall the morning when she entered my office, eyes shining with emotion and an old anthology of John Donne’s poetry in her hand. This was where she discovered that intelligence, this wonderful gift, grows in silence, not in noise. It was here too that she learned that a human mind, a truly human mind, is nurtured over time, with hard work and discipline.”
(3) 14 Ways to Make a Protected Bike Lane [Infographic]
Image courtesy of the Limestone Roof Photo Archives.
Year by year you sanctify the Church, the Bride of Christ, foreshadowed in visible buildings, so that, rejoicing as the mother of countless children, she may be given her place in your heavenly glory.
A related excerpt from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
“That night, for the next day’s lecture, he wrote out his defense of what he was doing. This was the Church of Reason lecture, which, in contrast to his usual sketchy lecture notes, was very long and very carefully elaborated.
It began with reference to a newspaper article about a country church building with an electric beer sign hanging right over the front entrance. The building had been sold and was being used as a bar. Once can guess that some classroom laughter started at this point. The college was well known for drunken partying and the image vaguely fit. The article said a number of people had complained to the church officials about it. It had been a Catholic church, and the priest who had been delegated to respond to the criticism had sounded quite irritated about the whole thing. To him it had revealed an incredible ignorance of what a church really was. Did they think that bricks and boards and glass constituted a church? Or the shape of the roof? Here, posing as piety was an example of the very materialism the church opposed. The building in question was not holy ground. It had been desanctified. That was the end of it. The beer sign resided over a bar, not a church, and those who couldn’t tell the difference were simply revealing something about themselves.”
(2) Everything Is Owed to Glory (WSJ – Registration Required)
“But Wellington was the servant of a democratic government, while all Europe became enslaved to Napoleon’s insatiable personal ambition.”
(2a) Churchill Still Stands Alone (WSJ)
“Churchill is the resounding human rebuttal to all Marxist historians who think history is the story of vast and impersonal economic forces. Time and again in his seven decades in public life, we can see the impact of his personality on the world and on events—far more of them than are now widely remembered.”
(3) Humanizing Religious Veneration (WSJ – Registration Required)
“The whole room is a virtual cornucopia of unmonastic beauty. This meditating saint may be ascetic, but he is certainly not otherworldly. The left-hand wall of his study has two mounted shelves. Books line the upper one. The bottom is filled with objets d’art. The secular and the religious exist in total psychological and pictorial harmony.”
“No one knows exactly when this particular limestone statue was set there, but she had probably been in place since the twelfth century, when the Faith was still young in France and the Abbey…”
“During the medieval period, the belief that the physical and spiritual worlds were intertwined fed into the idea that the soul was located inside the heart. Many aristocrats and royals even had their hearts removed after death. Their corpses were then interred in the family crypt, while the heart was preserved and buried in a place of spiritual significance. That usually meant a favorite monastery.”