Saturday, November 26, 2011

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Eve

Today is a fine day. Many people will be jumping into their cars or into planes to head out for the Thanksgiving holiday. It really is a splendid holiday. The fact that people want to be with each other is a real good sign that we have to take care of one another. These relationships are what really matters in life.

I love the month of November. It is often warmer than people think of it. The daylight is shorter than most months, but the warm air still makes me feel like there is much life to live before the winter slumber. It is a great time for reflection, hiking, or landscape therapy.

Today was a wild weather day. Strong winds at high tide made the surf rise nearly to the service road. I slept in until 7:30 a.m. as I just listened to and watched the waves crash before I got out of bed.

The staff worked for half a day. Within 15 minutes of their departure, the winds ceased and the rain stopped falling. It became eerily silent in the house. I lit a fire and watched it burn. The winds returned to batter the house again. I just sat and ate a pomegranite since it is regarded as a holiday fruit. The taste is quite nice, but I don't like eating those tiny seeds. Actually, there isn't much of a fruit to it. I watched the fire for an hour or so since I could not get outside to do any landscaping work. I can't wait to get some greens for my bedroom fireplace and for the wheelbarrows.

I was able to get caught up on a lot of loose ends. I still have many emails to write, and I have lots of retreat and household chores. It is nice to have a few days to putter around and get things done without a time hassle. 

We sing with the Cape Ann Symphony this Saturday and Sunday, then we direct a retreat for priests. At the end of that, we will carol in Rockport on December 3rd and then we perform Messiah on Dec. 10th and 11th.

I like that my to do list is getting smaller. I have much for which to be thankful and I'm spending my day remembering so many people who have graced my life or passed through this retreat center. All is good.

Concert: Come hear us sing!

Sparkling Holiday Pops
Beverly High School Auditorium Friday, Nov. 25, 8 pm
Fuller School , Gloucester Saturday, Nov. 26, 8 pmSunday Nov. 27, 2 pm 

Just a quick reminder that the Cape Ann Symphony will be bringing their always popular Sparkling Holiday Pops Concert toBeverly High School's auditorium* on Friday, Nov. 25, and to Gloucester's Fuller School Auditorium on Saturday Night andSunday afternoon.

And Boston Pops soprano Kristen Watson will join the symphony this year with an exciting celebration of Holiday Music at Beverly High* and then join the always popular Cape Ann Symphony Singers, directed by Wendy Betts at the Fuller Auditorium concerts.

The program includes favorites old and new, including selections from the Nutcracker, Leroy Anderson's Christmas Festival, WinterWonderland, Handel's Hallelujah Chorus from Messiah, to name a few. The celebration will end with the symphony's traditional Carol Festival Sing-Along.

So please join us for lots of fun. For tickets click here or call 978 281 0543.
For more information about the concerts and the Cape Ann Symphony click here.

*Due to space limitations at Beverly High the Cape Ann Symphony Singers will not be performing there. But the Beverly program has been modified to include more solos by Ms. Watson and extra pieces by the symphony.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Photos: Miscellaneous from the North Shore

To see photos of late November days in Newburyport, Gloucester, and Essex, please click on the link below:

Pics of November on the North Shore

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Souls of the Just

“The souls of the just are in the hand of God and no torment shall touch them… They are at peace… In the time of their visitation they shall shine, and shall dart about as sparks through stubble.” (Wisdom 2) 

As I begin prayer this morning, I fix my eyes upon a late-surviving hornet. It is darting about - caught between the window pane and the screen. It keeps walking on the screen trying to get out and in spite of my efforts to lift the screen and send it to freedom, it can’t see the way. It is drawn to the fresh air, but I think it is using its last energy to become free. Now it is slowly flying around the room – not rising above a foot. It seems restless and uneasy. It hovers close to me but does not land. I raise the screen higher, but it climbs further away from the opening. I think it is looking for a place to die. I can’t help it get to the open air. I hope when my time comes, I am at peace and can see the way that Christ holds open for me.

I extend my prayer through walking through the woods I have diligently cleared this year. I promise that I will walk to enjoy my handiwork and I will refrain from attending to additional work. This is difficult because I see much more than can be done. I notice the berries of the bushes and trees and note that every bush and tree has something positive to offer – even if it is located in the wrong place. Red berries are a striking contrast to the fading greens and yellows. Orange nuances peek through the fallen browns. Blues and purples are largely gone from the landscape.

My walk extends to the rocks at the far end of the pathway that leads to the ocean. I admire the stacks of logs that I split earlier in the week as they wait a year to season themselves for the fireplace. I settle upon a cluster of rocks perilously near to the rocky cliffs. Though foolish, I feel safe. I nestle in to shield myself from view.

This cluster of rocks is about the same place where I prayed the Meditation on Hell as a novice. The crashing waves seemed harsh and hostile in the January cold. I feel safe and secure at the very same place now. The autumn temperature is a surprising 70 degrees Fahrenheit.

November is the month we remember the dead. I attended two remembrance services for the dead this past week and the reminder of death pervades the land. A friend wrote to me to tell me that the dead are alive to us because they are in our memory. “The souls of the just are in the hand of God...”

My friends words are comforting and I believe them and yet I sit upon rocks that preexist my arrival for hundreds of thousands of years. So many people have come to these rocks to pray and meditate. I think about the people of a century ago who we no longer hold in our memories. Yes, I believe God remembers them, but are they really alive to us anymore? How long will I be alive to others especially as I have no descendents?

My pondering puts me back to God as the center, source, and end of all life – even that wayward hornet on my window sill. Focusing on God in this way makes my cares go away. If God is my primary relationship, I place other relationships in perspective and if any tension that exists, it is certainly lessened. It helps me to realize that people are typically trying to do what is good and right – even if it conflicts with what I want.

A recent prayer of mine is that God help me each day choose to act in a way that is kind and loving. I used to say, “make me a kind and loving person,” but I realize that is a negative evaluative statement about who I am. If God can help me respond lovingly each time a person crosses my boundaries, I will become that kind and loving man I hope to be. It helps me see everyone as a fellow sojourner – not as a threat to my safety, dignity, respect, or esteem. I pray that God graces me abundantly.

And so I sit here leaning against a boulder warmed by the sun. The sun warms my right cheek as I sit and breathe in deeply. Time is passing and I enjoy my frivolous waste of time. The ocean has no pleasure boats speeding through the waters. The horizon remains quiet. The wind ceases to be. Birds are not flying; insects are silent; mammals have settled in from their feeding for the day – to return at dusk. I hear a few hammers of builders in the far background and their noise is not intrusive. I’m glad to know they are renovating someone’s home. May the residents enjoy their craftsmanship.

Though I sit here alone, I realize how easy it is to think of God and the creation of this world. It is far too easy to think only of God and not of Christ. When we think of Christ, we too often see him as only transcendent and not as a human.

I think of being alone. How nice it would be to have someone with whom I can share what I see and feel. Just as the waves are caressing the rocks below – almost tenderly, I think of how nice it would be to have someone caress my face. I do not lament it. I only know that love is shared when it is received. I want to share this view with others.

As I desire this, I experience Christ coming down to the rock where I am seated. He takes a seat, but he is not alone. With him is his friend Ignatius and a few other men. I look back to see Peter Faber, Juan Polanco, Nicolas Bobadilla, and Robert Bellarmine. I am startled by Bellarmine’s appearance because he always seemed remote to me. Arrupe arrives.

Many more unnamed Jesuits come and sit on those rocks with me. Some are missionaries; others are retreat directors; still others are teachers; most are unnamed. They acknowledge me in silence and come to peer out into the ocean and to see what I am seeing and to feel what I am feeling. Though I realize everyone sees something different, I am glad to share this with them. These men arrived to be in solidarity with me and for me. They arrived because I invited them to be a part of my experience. I want them to see and experience the good I am noticing. I pray that I learn how to keep myself open and to let Christ open me up more widely to them.

The world rotates on love and affection. I pray asking God to help my actions be loving and kind. I know this is the way to happiness and freedom. I want God to blow open my window to the world so I can engage in it more freely. I can’t be like the hornet that can’t make it to that open space. Failure to do so means death. I want to fly through that window of God’s love. Freedom is life. I want it.

Monday, November 7, 2011


Last Wednesday, I attended a service of prayer and song to remember "All Souls" Day. We remember all our loved ones who died within the past year. The service was set at St. Paul Lutheran Church in Rockport. It contained a photo-projected slideshow, chant-like singing and poetry reading. The congregation was invited to join in. It was a lovely evening of prayer.

I noted how strikingly it different from a Catholic service. We have a form and ritual that brings comfort and expected familiarity. We petition God to remember those who are alive in our and God's memory and to help us with our grieving. Above all, we are free to call upon the name of God to be with us and our loved ones.

Yesterday, I attended an ecumenical "Service of Remembrance and Hope" at the 2nd Congregational Church in Beverly. It brought together people from many faith traditions to collectively grieve with one another. The service was well done with a rite of lighting candles. It brought in much poetry and prose to remind us that the dead are alive to us in our memory. At the end of the service, tulip bulbs were distributed so worshiper can plant them in remembrance of one who died this past year.

The service was profoundly moving for the congregants. Most were friends and relatives of patients who died in the area hospice programs. The staff members led the service.

I was part of the choir that provided the music. We had two well-trained cantors to lead the singing. The setting sun provided reflective light for the service. Many people were reminded of the fragility of life. Very many shed tears because of the loss they continue to feel. It was a helpful way of grieving socially.

Again, I am thankful for our Catholic tradition. Our liturgy gives me comfort. The dead are always in our consciousness because we pray for them at Mass. I can never move away from our Mass as the source and completion of our worship. I wish more people could have the tradition that we have.

Reading scripture is fundamental to my prayer. Speaking about and learning from Jesus Christ is crucial to me. He is the one who makes sense of my questions of suffering and sorrow. I am proud of my faith.

I'm very glad for the services that were recently held and yet it makes me cherish my faith all the more. Christ is the alpha and omega and the source and summit. I'm glad that our liturgies encapsulate his essence well.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

First Frost

This morning saw the first frost in northern Massachusetts. This means Indian summer can now occur and I think we will have it tomorrow when the temperatures will reach into the low 70's. It is unusual that we had snow before the first frost, but in Gloucester we were untouched by the snows that fell a week ago.

Yesterday, I took a chance and planted a number of spring bulbs. It is very late in the season to do it but the soil is still warm and wet so they may have a chance. I normally would not try it at this late point in the year, but we just had some major stumps removed from the two new flowerbeds that it gave me an opportunity to quickly plant them in the loose soil. Planting in the future will be much easier because those stumps are gone.

Most of my week was dedicated to digging up roots. I extracted at least  16 of them. The lawn will be much easier to mow next year because it will be so smooth. The funny thing is that I can't show anyone the results of my work because what I do is no longer there. I tell them I do invisible work. I removed what shouldn't be in place so when they look, they don't see anything except a land that looks as it ought to be.

Yesterday, two friends from the Spain pilgrimage came for a visit. They brought their shitzu, Pedro, and two dogs they were pet-sitting. They enjoyed racing over the expansive tracks of the retreat house. They tired themselves quickly. It was good to see Joe and Jeanne again. They are such kind people.

Three friends from Australia visited. I gave them a tour of the house and property and then attended Mass before dinner. We had a lovely visit with them. The community remarked that they had one of the happiest dinners in a long time. It was relaxed because none of the community was on the retreat team. The spirit was fun and free. We enjoyed each other.

We are gearing up for our concerts. Our first one is in three weeks; the second is in five weeks. We will be ready.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

My trophies

These are my trophies. Many times I have removed entrenched stumps from Eastern Point's laws, but these five were intractable. Yesterday, I committed my efforts to removing one of them and since the soil was loosened by the recent rains, it only took me an hour each to remove one. Encouraged by the first removal, I was determined to persevere with the others. The blasted things were still growing even though all other living things were entering into their slumber.

I will let these stumps dry out for a few days before I burn them in the fireplace. I will savor the moment of seeing these roots go op in flames. Each of them will make for an interesting log to burn. They gave me such a difficult time throughout the year. They were the cause of the major vine systems leaping off the bushes into the tall trees. The vines choked the trees and made the property look jaundiced. Even after I cut down the bushes, I could not stop the stumps from growing and since they were green, they were more resilient. I was losing the fight.

Yesterday, I won.

To the right is a photo of what the property now looks like. You can't tell where the stumps were. Most of the work that I do is invisible to most people because they only see how the land ought to look instead of how it appeared with unruly stumps sticking up all over the place.

Surely, but slowly, the land will speak for itself and will return to its original glory.

I am sore and aching in new places. I can feel muscles developing in unusual places, but the pain feels good because it was well-earned. Rising from bed this morning was slower than most mornings.