Saturday, February 11, 2006

Friday By The Bay - as Herb Caen used to say...

Friday morning, at the neighborhood coffee house and wireless connection. Yesterday we went to the new de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park and I liked it a lot. It was great to see several paintings I’ve loved all my life in the new venue, although the wonderfully massive marble piece of King Saul brooding is not on view. Started to walk to the Legion of Honour to see an exhibit there and realized I was galleried out.

I’ve walked through so many areas where I’ve had some history, and it makes me realize that San Francisco is a haunted city for me: too many memories evoke old songs, I hear old voices, remember old stories, recall old fears, hopes, dreams, victories and defeat as I pass by places which trigger old associations. They all return. The vestiges of my personal, familial, corporate, historical memories: a neighbourhood where my great grandfather was born, the place where his grandfather had a warehouse on the waterfront in 1852, now several blocks from the Bay, the church where my parents were married in 1939. Moving past places where I worked, played, had intense conversations and more with friends and strangers about various matters of great importance now forgotten: all these landmarks which mix memory and desire – Thank you, T. S. Eliot - and make me glad to live somewhere which has room for new memories, new associations, new possibilities.

It has been wonderful for be back in San Francisco, and I am glad – very glad – that I live in Melbourne now.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Living with ethics in the post-red-mustang-convertible world

Yesterday we returned the archetypal Mustang, after a top-down ride the night before down Lombard Street, up Telegraph Hill and around the Embarcadero to Market Street As we approached the Tenderloin we raised the top. It is so sad to see so many people sleeping on the streets, it reminds me of the pictures of New Orleans after Katrina; except there has been no hurricane here, simply a system that rewards the rich and suffers the poor to sleep on the streets in the richest nation on the earth.

I am proud to be an American. I speak as someone who’s always been proud to trace ancestry back to the roots of this country, so don’t make a protest that I don’t have a right to speak about my own homeland. But I recall the pictures I saw from Katrina and the sights I saw with my own eyes last night, speeding through the streets of San Francisco, and I think of the Hebrew prophets in the Scripture, railing against the injustice of Israel, and it makes me scared; for my country and for myself as a citizen.

I have reason to be concerned. I am staying in a neighbourhood where the average house sells for 1.2 million, I was somewhat depressed yesterday when Brooks Brothers did not have a wool-cashmere blazer in my side, I always hope for an upgrade to business class when flying. I am no saint. Bob Egan, a Jesuit who was my spiritual director for much of the ‘80s said one of the big questions for anyone who was interested in being a Christian is this: “How uncomfortable do you allow yourself to be for the Kingdom of God, the new creation?” I still mull over that one and my answer is usually, “not very uch at all.” But I wonder about the voices of the prophets, the call of God’s righteousness, and how it might speak, what it might say, about the disparity of rich and poor in this city, this nation, my own country in these days.

In “For the Time Being,” W. S. Auden writes that “God’s will will be done.” If any of this God stuff is true, if the poor are really blessed and if those who work for righteousness will be fulfilled; then I wonder how that might happen in this city in this world. And I wonder how I might be more concerned and connected to that kingdom, working towards that end, that hoped for harvest for all humankind, all creation. Going back to scripture, how can I keep awake?

San Francisco is still my favorite city,and it is still the place from which I define the world. The view from Coit Tower, driving down upper Market Street, Yerba Buena, Union Square, the wooden houses in bright colours climbing halfway to the stars, Tony Bennett is right, I left much of my heart here; and that heart sings for the beauty here and is saddened by the people who still sleep nightly in the doorways around the Civic Centre and for the rest of us as well. Can I live in that paradox for awhile, can I learn and build from it? Where can this prayer lead me to change my life and my work?

Sunday, February 05, 2006

God, Traffic, Superbowl and American Holidays

I am in San Diego; here for a few days to visit friends before driving back to the Bay Area. It has been 20 years since I drove on the LA freeways. We left Santa Barbara after breakfast at the monastery and arrived here around 2:30, taking time out for lunch in Newport Beach, but aside from the lunch, the time between was a meditation on something, and I am not really sure what.

Driving through LA has to be linked with the worse of the 20th century: fast cars, smog, the threat of road rage, people in Humvee’s – I hope I spelled that right – cutting across lanes like mad marines in some near-eastern country. It was absolutely exhausting and I ended up with a feeling of being completely drained: the image that comes is from years ago when I was working in a 28 day rehabilitation house for people coming off abusing substances. There was a deep craziness on that road, a kind of narcotic of speed, change, danger and the always out there promise of progress. It was lucky that we were in the carpool lane much of the time, which meant we could only be in danger from cars to our right – discounting the lesser threat of the oncoming traffic in 4 to 8 lanes coming in the opposite direction across the barrier to our left. It was a high pitched insanity that left me feeling depleted in the same way as when I was helping some speed freak try to figure out what reality might look like after too much time in psychosis-ville. Next time I will try the train.

Tomorrow we start the drive north, but as it is Super-Bowl Sunday, one of the biggest religious festivals on the continent, traffic will be much easier! Thanks be to God!

Friday, February 03, 2006

A voice from the past - Mt Calvary 1977

Through the miracle of computers, and my trusty iBook, Chip, in particular, I have the story I wrote in the spring of 1977 after I had spent three weeks as a pilgrim to Mt. Calvary Retreat House, where I am visiting today. What I quote below was the central part of a larger story, which was in turn a way to make sense of and write down an experience of the sacred, of an awareness that God was in love with me, liked me, was desirous of being with me lot less than everywhere and all the time. It was pure gift, a time of clarity after about a year of struggle and confusion. In reality, there was no one monk, but a variety of words and experiences: all boiled down to what I wrote here several months after the three weeks I stayed here. In many ways it is a message I am still coming to understand and live out.

What the Monk Said.

"What I want you to do is nothing. No more trips to Santa Barbara or Isla Vista to check up on the real world. No polysyllabic discourses with the other guests. I don't want to find you reading the Fathers of the Church or trying to sum up the Summa. If you have to read then try something like the Narnia books, nothing heavier, just keep it clean and light. I do want you to start attending the daily office, there is a rhythm there that will do you good. And I'd like to take a walk up the canyon everyday between lunch and tea. Take a towel in case you feel like swimming and find a rock and listen to the water in the creek. Lay back and let life sing its song to you, Let life happen in its own good time.

"I am not too popular with people from the Southland. Once I told a group from a church in Beverly Hills that if all Los Angeles spent three days in prayer the smog would vanish. They said that the area would all but vanish in the sense that nothing could happen. I said I though that was an added benefit. They didn't agree. What I am saying is that sometimes you just have to sit and wait.

"I want you to fill yourself with religion while you are here. A religion of action, I want you to choreograph your day with the daily office and festoon your night with prayer. I want you to allow the possibility that the world is a holy place and I want you to see that religion points to a fact that religion points too a fact, a statement about the universe that is beyond your wildest preconceptions, a reality that reaches out and in and under everything that Is. I want you to allow the possibility of God and I want you to use the way of religion.

"Religion serves man as a reminding sign, a directional signal, a road that points towards, and sometimes people forget that. They get to the point where they are supposed to learn, where they can remind themselves, and they forget to go on. That can and does happen with every bit of religious activity and every myth. It also happens with Kiwanis or Rotary, with business or academia. As soon as you have an image of some facet of truth the tendency seems to be to sit down and talk about it, think about it, write about it, everything but going on. When Dante went to his Paradise he saw some men who looked like mountains, and when he asked them who they were they said they were the ones who always go a little bit farther. Just a little but farther, to the unconstructed image, to the house of God.

"You see to go one, to follow the whisper of a hint, the glimpse of a vision, takes almost a superhuman amount of courage. It would be beyond any man if it were not for two things. First the wave that carries towards this sought for land is one of grace; we are carried by the current. And this graceful action is the most natural thing in the world. We have gotten to the point in this world where we call a young man normal if, after the proper amount of schooling, he spends the rest of his life selling insurance. In the name of all that is holy, don't worry about what is normal! Just have faith. Follow the hopeful moments, become a firm friend of the fact of life.

"I think that is what happens to the holy ones; whether Jesus , Buddha, Merton, Krishnamurti, or those we haven't heard of yet and perhaps never will. They kept going on a little further. They kept their ears open and their eyes clear and they becomes friends with life. They met her and mingled with her and looked at creation and found that it is good beyond belief. So they melded into life. each in their own way. that is all we have to do, go on in our own path, each bearing our unique gift. That isn't so very much to ask, to taste the savor of God. Dame Juliana said there were three things about that world that are important. The first is that God creates it, second, he keeps it, third he loves it.

"Look at where you are. Open your eyes and see! You are light dancing in the eyes of God. For that reason be what you are.

"This is the last time we will meet together, I am leaving for the mother house soon. I am not ordering you out the door, but I do think that it is time you were heading back to Davis. I have one more chance to talk to you and I have one more thing to say. I want you to trust your own conception of God. I want you to allow the wild possibility that God may be exactly as you are at your best, but larger, containing more diversity, unlimited options and combinations. Allow the possibility that God is not only lovable, but that he is likable, and since he is, so are you, St. Paul says that we are hidden in Christ, and the reverse in true as well. Christ is hidden with us; the wedding feast, the last supper, crucifixion, resurrection and pentecost are all hidden in our lives as well. We are the life of God acted out in time and space, the grace of God happening outside eternity, God dancing God's dance of perfect time, the epiphanies of God in process of happening, the eyes of God in the process of seeing.

"Tonight I want you to spend an hour in the Chapel before Compline. Go in and sit, or kneel and pray if you feel like praying, but mainly just wait for the silence. Just be ready."

A Suspicious Epiphany

This morning these words went through my mind:

"I am the beautiful reflection of my loves affection
A walking illustration of his adoration
His love makes me beautiful, so beautiful, so beautiful.

"I ask my looking glass what is it, makes me so exquisite,
The Answer to my query, comes back deary
His love makes me beautiful, so beautiful, so beautiful.

"And women loved is woman glorified
I’ll make a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful bride!"

Leaving aside the gender-specifc language, this is what I feel today in Santa Barbara. God’s love is blooming me in this blooming lovely place, and it is probably always the case, but I don’t usually see it, live in it, enjoy it, and hear this particular song in my heart.

Ah, the song. It is a tune written for Funny Girl, a Broadway musical and movie starring Barbara Streisand as a young Fanny Brice. She sang this song as a Zigfield Girl, dressed as a bride, with the addition of a pillow that made her appear to be very pregnant.

So the words above had a different context in the film than what they have today on these prayer-filled hills over looking the Pacific on the feast of the Presentation of the Virgin in the Temple, the mass which will be celebrated later today. And yet it makes perfect sense.

I have always tried to have a more conventional spirituality; but God often shows up in my life in a slightly common, humorous, even vulgar way. Thirty years ago I had a series of dreams where a cook from a diner showed up, walking from the kitchen with a white apron over a t-shirt that was stained with food preparation, to ask what I wanted to do with my life, and that was the time when I realized that my deepest and most intimate desire was to minister. Those dreams, and I have no doubt that it was God behind that well-used apron, led me to change my life.

So Barbra Streisand and a Broadway musical give me the song of God’s love, written in the words of the creation, on this wonderful California winter day, and help me to remember, on this feast of the Virgin, that I am also Theotokos, God-bearer, a pregnant bride with a surprising song of how intimately the love of the universe can come to take place in an indivudual life.

I am having a wonderful holiday!

Thursday, February 02, 2006

On a Holiday

I write this from the veranda of a monastery in Santa Barbara, California. I've been coming here for 30 years and they now have wireless! I am in the middle on a long vacation visiting friends and family, plus attending a conference at my seminary in Berkeley, and now staying at the retreat house of an Anglican order of monks who have been part of my life since 1974.

It is a very rich time. Connecting with the past, remembering what endures, putting some things to rest, touching base with some people and places that bring renewal, being simply surprised by how good life is. I have lived in Melbourne for almost 5 years now, and I love my life and work in Australia, but this trip is reminding me of the best of California, what I have had here, who I have known here. I've been connecting with friends who go a long time back, people who've seen me through big changes in old times, and it has been pure gift.

Yesterday a friend and I drove down the Big Sur road from Carmel in a rented - free upgrade - Red Mustang convertible, and if that doesn't bring out the archetypes, nothing will. So many memories came back, from that road and on so many journeys, of grace and good friends, the many detours in my life, with much forgiveness, numerous follies and endless love. This has been one of those times when I see how much I am sustained by love: with old friends, family, persons and places and from God. It is a real holiday. I will write more later.