Tuesday, November 30, 2010

This photo was taken by Peter Van Demark at the Cape Ann Singer's performance with the Cape Ann Symphoy. The holiday concerts were held on November 27th and 28th and included the following songs:

Caroling, Caroling, A medley of Alfred Burt Carols arranged by Mark Hayes,
Bashana Haba'ah, lyrics by Ehud Manor, music by Nurit Hirsch, arranged by John Leavitt,
A Musicological Journey Through the Twelve Days of Christmas, by Craig Courtney,
and Handel's Hallelujah Chorus,

with the obligatory Christmas Sing-a-long.

It was great fun!

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Photos: Boston's Fanueil Hall

To see photos of Fanueil Hall in Boston on Thanksgiving Day, please click on the link below:

Pics of Boston's Faneuil Hall

Photos: Campion Center Glimpses

To see photos of Campion Center in Weston, Massachusetts, please click on the link below:

Pics of Campion Center

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

A Thanksgiving Reflection

It is the eve of Thanksgiving and the darkness settles early upon the land. I have taken out my Advent decorations to ready myself for the new Christian year that begins this Sunday. I know the candles will provide some relief from the darkness as we wait in hope for the arrival of Christ into our lives at Christmas.

As November is the month of All Souls, I think back fondly on those whose journey in this temporal life has come to an end. I am reminded of my own mortality and the brevity of life. Many of us have lost someone dear to us. Their stories will remain in our hearts until we join them in heaven. Until we do, I want to appreciate the struggles of my brothers and sisters and help them to realize that God gives much to them. I want to learn to be patient with others; I want to be patient in those areas where I want to see change right away.

I consider myself blessed. I began my year traveling to Australia to begin tertianship with eleven Jesuit brothers from across the globe. I marvel at the exciting times we had together and the bonds of friendship we forged. I am thankful for Adrian, the tertian director, and Joe, his assistant and the superior of our community, for their care for our spiritual development. I am grateful for what I have learned from the various communities of faith I encountered in Australia (Pymble, Sydney, Melbourne, Alice Springs, Seven Hill, Cairns, and Hervey Bay), in New Zealand (Opunake, Hawera, New Plymouth, Wellington, and Auckland), and in Honolulu, Hawaii. I especially pray for the loss of the 29 New Zealand miners in their recent national tragedy.

I am grateful to my Provincial for assigning me to Eastern Point Retreat House in Gloucester where I can direct the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I'll go anywhere he needs to send me. I'm very pleased with my small community at the retreat house and pleased with the dedicated guest directors who grace our hallways week after week. I can tell that many people come to know our Lord in the silence and stillness afforded by this magical place. I am honored to hear countless stories of grace alive and at work in the lives of many. I am grateful also for the people of Maine with whom our journeys have intersected. I am deeply enriched by their daily courage.

Tomorrow, I will travel to my family home south of Worcester, Massachusetts and we will share a happy traditional meal of roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, yams, vegetables, cranberry sauce, cheeses, and scrumptious desserts. It is my favorite meal of the year as November is a special month for me. I'm grateful for the good fortune of my family as we all endure our personal crises. We will focus on the good that is happening with us now and we will let our other concerns be diminished for the day. We soon set our sights on the wonder and splendor of Christmas.

Thankfully, Thanksgiving does not get such a commercial splash as the other major holidays even though there is an increase of pumpkins, pilgrims, cornucopia, and other harvest items on the markets' shelves. It does not become complicated like Christmas because we do not exchange gifts on this day. This means we get to appreciate the meaning of our national holiday with our hearts rather than with our senses. This has become our national holiday when we honor the time with our families and when we do that, we honor God.

The lights and sights of Christmas will hit us in the face on Black Friday when all the stores open to major sales and return to profit (hence, they are in the black, not in the red.) Radio stations will play Christmas and holiday music non-stop until Christmas day. Sparkling lights will soon adorn the lawns and windows.

Many purists lament the build-up of Christmas though they cheat by eating Christmas goodies way before December 24th. I, however, like the commercial Christmas season. For me, it does not wholly interfere with the liturgical Advent season. If these holiday traditions help people feel lighter and happier and help them dream of a brighter world, then I'm all for decorations and music. If these lights help people point to the mystery of the Incarnation, then I'm very happy. I want people to see the wonder in the season and the senses have a way of capturing information that feeds our imagination. All these symbols point us to the mystery of God's love.

I enjoy the gentleness of Advent. The soft lights that grow in longing anticipation of Christ's arrival makes me want to spend greater time watching the stillness of a flickering candle. The ancient Advent songs help me dream of Isaiah's prophecy of the peaceable kingdom in which no harm or ruin can come to anyone on God's holy mountain. The presence of Mary's motherhood helps us to realize the new life that is to be born within us. Yes, the Advent season is worth capturing. We are a people who live in the "now" and the "not yet" so we spend our time waiting, learning how to be patient.

The other days I read a quote from the protestant theologian, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in which he says, "A prison cell in which one waits, hopes... and is completely dependent on the fact that the door of freedom has to be opened from the outside, is not a bad picture of Advent."

Christ will soon come to open that door. With his coaxing invitation, it is up to us to decide whether we will step out of that prison door into a new life of freedom.

For God's great salvific event, I am thankful.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

November Skies

I took a late afternoon walk today as the sun was low in the sky. I realized that it was probably a good time of day to take my camera, but decided it was more than I wanted to carry. I made the wrong choice. I really wanted to be silent and to have few interrruptions so I could walk in the still part of the day. The air temperature was in the lows 50's Fahrenheit. I did not have to get bundled up. I do enjoy November days so much. It is my month.

Even though I live in a town of 30,000 people, I feel like I live in a remote part of Montana because few people come to this part of town during the off-season. The nearby pond is flush with wildlife. The noises of the ducks and aquatic birds are the only sounds one can hear. The tall reeds muffle the winds so that the low-lying sounds of wildlife are audible. With sheltered wind, the silence transports me to a gentle place inside my soul.

As the sun was getting ready to set, it lit off some pink and orange colors behind the clouds. I wish I had taken my camera. I marveled at how inexpensive and priceless beauty is. It is free. And that which we think must be beautiful can turn out to be something else once we take a closer look.

As a diversion my walk, I went to an estate sale from the property of A. Piatt, a popular politician of Gloucester in the 1940's. The estate was sold and most of the fixtures were to be sold. The house was in rather good condition, but it was old and dusty. It needs refreshing. The clothing and other articles were strewn around the house as if it were the room of a seven year old who threw a tantrum. I'm sure more items would have sold if they were dusted off or cleaned. The laundry could have been folded and neatly displayed.

In one room that might have been the dining room, the mosaic around the fireplace was stunning. The patterns of griffins delicately adorned the wall and mantleplace. The pattern went from floor to ceiling and had vibrant colors that gave me delight. The fireplace well was the deepest I have seen. But with all this beauty inside, the setting sun gast a pink glow on the ocean waves. The other guests and I were captivated by it and we imagined that there were great feasts held in this dining area.

I continued my walk to the lighthouse A house directly across from Black Bess was torn down this week and taken away in two dumpsters. All the time and effort to build it and it was gone in two days. This is the sort of place that tears down a 2 million dollar house to replace it with a 7 million dollar house.

I passed a familiar gentleman who also walks each day. He is a pleasantly handsome man in his 50's and he wears expensive walking clothers. I want to ask him if he is in pain because he is always grimacing. He makes sure to acknowledge me, but grunts instead of saying a greeting. I want to tell him I don't need for him to acknowledge me. I hope he can work out his anger in some way so that even a walk can be pleasant.

I contrast him with a man who was driving a larger truck on our small roads two days ago. He splashed me with mud water and the blessed man stopped to apologize. He was sincere. I forgave him easily and tried to let him know he didn't have to worry. I am lifted up by his kindness. I want to act like this man.

I then saw a car pass by me whose license plate read, "Imagine." I could not even see which state it was licensed, but it helped bring me to a more favorable state.

As I approached the lighthouse, I stopped to watch the final descent of the sun, and as I looked over my shoulder I noticed the rising full moon. It was as if the sun was handing off its light authority to the moon. They seemed to part ways and thank each other for its role in creation. It was a surreal moment when the seagulls were lifted up by the wind and hovered in place. Everything came to a standstill, and then the sun gave a flicker before it dropped out of view. I wish I took my camera with me.

I passed a couple who were walking their dogs that were adorned with bright green lights so cars could see them and avoid hitting them. The people though were wearing dark clothing and were difficult to spot. Hmmm. We do value our pets more than ourselves, but I can relate to their intentions. I sometimes bring a walking stick with me because if I car is approaching me, the driver may not necessarily move away to give me space, but he or she will swerve awy if I am holding a stick so the car does not get damaged.

I decided to extend my walk around the circle at Eastern Point. I'm glad I did. An owner was taking pictures of her dog, Ella, with the full moon as a backdrop. I volunteered to take a photo of the two of them with her Iphone. I wish I had my camera because the reflection on the still pond was sublime. I'll trust myself more fully next time.

Just as I was leaving, a duck crossed the road. I waited while she crossed, but then at least 15 others crossed the road as well. It took about 15 minutes for them all to cross. It was like a Snow White fairy tale where all the wildlife seemed to be in harmony with each other. And of course as I finally passed by the ducks, I saw a rabbit at the gates to Niles Pond Road. I'm happy he still is alive because I've seen the Fisher Cat and her two pups in this area.

Now it is dark.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Sea Glass

I owe an apology to a friend in Maine. Two years ago as I was walking the beach at Prouts Neck, Maine with my friend, Madeline, and her husband, Ken, she hastened toward a spot on the beach to pick up a small blue glass shard that had been smoothed over by the ocean. She told me it was sea glass and blue is one of the rarest colors you can find. I was amazed that she could spot it at such a distance, but she was very satisfied. She told me all about it and I couldn't get my head around her fascination. She said, "you are underwhelmed, huh?" I was. I wasn't unimpressed with her ability to spot something that she found intriguing; I merely saw her find as a broken piece of glass.

A friend of mine was on retreat at Marie Joseph Spirituality Center in Maine one summer and his director told him to go look for sea glass as a way of getting his mind off the weighty worldly matters that beset him. He walked the beach for half an hour before he gave up. He had never seen sea glass before and did not know what to look for.

I have seen sea glass collections inside homes near the ocean. They are smooth by the ocean into smoky tints. The sand, rocks, and salt water quickly transform broken glasses into a soft-looking treasure. They have a soft look with pastel-like colors. Mostly, you find them in a collection in a person's bathroom near another collection of seashells. It is amazing how many people will decorate their bathrooms like an aquarium or like a seascape. I understand the water connection, but I seldom equate a bathroom with an ocean view. I think I hold a minority view judging by abundance of bathrooms dedicated to aquatic culture.

Well, as yesterday was a 60 degree day in Boston (Gloucester) with bright sunny skies, I went for a walk on the beach. I spotted a glass shard on the beach and said to myself, "This must be sea glass." It was a smoky white, stone-like piece of glass. I almost put it down, but saw another piece. I picked it up and put it in my pocket. I noticed many other pieces of sea glass and I collected about 30 pieces in all. Some were clear, others white, many were green, and a few were brown. I even picked up a tiny cobalt blue piece - a gem in sea glass efforts. I seem to have an eye for spotting them.

I wondered where they came from and why there was so much of it around. It seems as if it is trash - broken bottles - beer and otherwise. I picked it up because even if it did not have a redeeming ascetic value, at least someone's foot would not get cut as they walked the beach. I have to admit that when I brought the sea glass home and placed it on a tray, it looked kind of nice.

I don't know what I will do with it, but it will one day make a nice display or gift for someone who collect them. It is fascinating that some stores will sell sea glass and some people make it into jewelry. I would love to hear my friend from Maine's thoughts on her fascination with sea glass.

I must admit that looking at my collection reminds me of the power of the ocean. In a short time, the ocean can transform something sharp and dangerous into something pleasant to hold and admire. Isn't this what God does with us. When we are immersed in God's overwhelming grace, our rough edges get smoothed over. What we might find as rough because beautiful in the sight of others who behold our jagged lives. God can quickly transform the most cutting of surfaces into something smooth, and we simply become part of the terrain - sometimes overlooked because we fit in so well; other times singled out for our beauty when we are added to a collection of like-transformed objects. We are treasured.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Wearying Wind

The past week has been amazing as Tropical Storm Tomas passed by New England. The sustained winds have been battering the shoreline incessantly. Typically, I fall asleep at night hearing very little outside noise but this week has been a constant drone.

It reminds me of the heaviness of the liturgical readings, which are all about the end times. It seems as if the constant pressure of the waves is both a reminder of the pressures of the world, but also the immense power of God to break into our lives. God's not going to stop trying. Only when we say, "O.K. I give in" will be be able to realize the gentleness of God's invitations.

Retreatants have spent a great deal of time on the rocks. In some ways, I can't blame them for wanting to behold such a spectacle, but they don't realize they are not safe. The enormous sprays of waves against the rocks have tremendous power to sweep anyone into the sea. The people think they are safe and they are not realizing that the wetness of the rocks on which they stand are from those rogues waves. When I tried to tell them to be careful and move away, they turned away from my advice. How come some people think they are impregnable to danger?

I have to say that my danger quotient rose this year when I went scuba diving. It was exhilarating. Now I want to bungee jump, hang-glide, and parachute.

I laugh when I daydream about this because I will become fearful when I'm driving a mountain road or a very long bridge. I tend to think that I am not fearful of heights as much as I am fearful of voids. When I'm driving up a winding mountain road, my stomach is queazy when I cannot see the land below. If it seems as if I am driving off into infinite, I fear that I will lose control of my ability to drive. The same with a bridge. If I cannot see the ground below, I feel a bit panicky. If I am driving up across a bridge and can only see the sky, I lose my sense of balance, but if I'm on the top of the bridge and can see the horizon, I am fine. I try to conquer this fear by placing myself in these extreme positions, but I always get this vertigo-like feeling.

Anyways, I still want to parachute jump.

Let me return to the ocean. One of the neatest things about watching the waves this week was to spot the rainbows in the mist. It is quite a phenomenon. I'm sure physics can explain why it happens, but all the reasons in the world won't explain the wonder one experiences when that prism bursts forth. Many rainbows formed from the fine spray - literally, nearly 100 per hour. Even the least sensate person would have been pulled off his chair to marvel at this natural feat.

Tonight, I am in Windsor, Maine at the Holy Transfiguration Monastery. I would have to say that any and all Transfigurations are holy. This is a lovely spot though. It is between Augusta and Belfast in a tiny little village. It is very dark because there is no light pollution. It reminds me of my time at Sevenhill in Australia because there were no street lights to dim the view of the stars. Also, I can hear coyotes in the forest. I'm told they come close and will eat the free range chickens of our neighbors.

I'm in a lovely retreat center. This building is new construction with four bedrooms, two baths, a conference room, and a well-equipped kitchen. As you can see, it also has wireless. It is both lovely and comfortable. The construction is solid and contemporary. I recommend it to anyone who wants a week of silence.

Anyways, it is soon time for bed. I was remarking to myself today that good eating is one of the joys of life. I have to live less joyfully.

I wonder how long I can remain a vegetarian - once I begin.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Photos: The Battered Shore

To see photos of the shoreline battered by Tropical Storm Tomas, please click on the link below:

Pics of The Battered Shore

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Stormy Day

As I drove home in the early evening, freezing rain and a touch of wet snowflakes reminded me of what will soon come in great quantities. Winds and rains battered the retreat house throughout the night. Darkness settled early as daylight savings time has come to an end.

I lament the loss of my Ultraviolent Sunlamp. It is a helpful way of staying energized during the dark winter months. When I moved to Australia for tertainship, my Jesuit brothers moved my possessions out of the house and into a room at Cheverus where I onced worked. The sunlamp is a casualty of the move. The lamp replicates the sun's natural rays and provides the stimulus for keeping one alert and vibrant. It is especially good in the dark days of New England when cabin fever can set in. It is proven as a remedy for those who have Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). I don't have it, but I like the recharging effect this lamp provides.

Anyways, since a weekend retreat had ended, I was not expecting to be around for a meal at the retreat house upon my return. However, the lights on the in kitchen gave me hope that there might be warm leftovers. To my delight, the fragrance of the Yankee Pot Roast meal that was made by one of my brothers was truly a delight and an incredible gesture of goodwill. We enjoyed the nicest conversations around a meal that was well prepared.

I needed this at the end of this week. The New England Patriots lost in a terrible way to a promising, but mediocre Cleveland Browns. Also, the conclusion of a brutal U.S. election campaign ended on Tuesday. Masschusetts voted Democratic while various parts of the country voted Republican. I am glad the election advertisements are over because they lack civility and truth. Most of the campaigns are efforts to spin their own version of the truth and their intent is to win voters with the most minimal soundbytes imaginable.

I wonder if we ever had the ability to discourse during election campaigns. It is rare that conversation and discourse happens in any sphere of life. Most of the times, people think they are in conversation when they get to state what is on their minds. Real conversation involves a lot more listening and paraphrasing than we imagine. Conversation requires a lot of work and patience and we have to check out with the other person if we are understanding what he or she is saying to us.

I visited the tertians in the New England program yesterday. They are a terrific group of men. One of the tertians is sick right now with a brain tumor and is going through daily treatments. He is a lovely man. I was able to spend time with other friends and catch up on where they are in their life. I came away from that visit with tremendous contentment.

Anyways, when I awoke this morning I heard the Coast Guard helicopter making a coastal sweep of Gloucester. I realized that even though I am right on the ocean, we do not get any airplane traffic from Logan airport. Most of my nights are very quiet. Only the ocean's waves or a strong wind interrupts the silence. I feel so blessed.

The ocean, like God, can be overpowering at times. I try not to run from it, but it is sometimes hard to stay with it. I want to enter more deeply into the stillness. This is one of the graces of my long retreat - to stay with the stillness.

The sunlight that splays through the trees can create a surreal feeling. I find myself most happy to be alive. The falling leaves during this month of All Souls continues to remind me of the death of the world and my own immortality. I want to be ready for my death when it comes, but I don't want it to come too soon. I want to live because this is a good world that has been redeemed by God. I find much goodness in it and I find I am very happy.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010