Saturday, August 27, 2011

Riding the Storm Out

God is for us a refuge and strength, a helper close at hand, in time of distress:
so we shall not fear though the earth should rock,
though the mountains fall into the depths of the sea,
even though its waters rage and foam,
even though the mountains be shaken by its waves.

The Lord of hosts is with us:
the God of Jacob is our stronghold.

Psalm 46:2-4

This would have been the day I would begin exploring Brooklyn, to begin to know, in the words of Walker Percy, the "soul-genie" of the city in which I now live. Of course, nature and the God of nature have other plans. With the outer bands of Hurricane Irene already upon the Greater New York area, the light gray sky is crying, and the city is shutting down its mass transit system. No trains, no subways, no buses will run after noon. With only ten hours of fair-weather driving to merit my newly regained license, you could not pay me to take one of the friary vehicles out for a trip. I am grounded at St. Michael Friary, and here I will stay cheerfully with the brothers until the storm has passed.

Under the circumstances of my former life, a situation like this would make me itchy and irritable. I hate staying at home. My work and lifestyle in Boston had thoroughly un-domesticated me. No waiting on tables for me, not like Martha and the first deacons; send me forth, like Paul and the missionary apostles. Whether to the worker or to the immigrant and refugee, it did not matter: just send me! However, my zeal for what Protestants call mission and Catholics call the apostolate had all but dimmed my vision for communion, the joy of gathering together with the people of God and people of good will for the ultimate fellowship of word and table and for blessed friendship born of good food and good conversation. I had gorged myself gleaning a thousand fields but starved when I came back to a thousand dinner tables. A spiritual bulimic and anemic!

The dawning awareness of this lack of proportion is one of the primary reasons I have sought the balance of religious life, with its promise of a better order of prayer and work, contemplation and activity, communion and mission. Prayerful as you may know me to be; mystic though you think I am; and as friendly a fellow as you say I am, the dominant notes have strung into the tune of a man driven to something, driven by superego more than drawn by grace. Who I am, even now, is good enough for God, but it is how I can be who I am that can be sanctified ever more and ever more.

I want to know how to live better who I am. That is why I am now in religious life. That is why I am becoming a Capuchin Franciscan. That is why I am content for the moment to stay at home and do things I would, given my own way, choose not to do. God, give me grace to do my laundry with happiness. Give me grace to sit with gladly my brothers to watch a movie and play cards. Give me grace to gab with the brothers over breakfast at the crowded kitchen table with glad and generous heart. In all things let me praise the God who dwells in them and in every space of this house. For you are indeed our refuge, and not only in the tabernacle of our chapel.


Yesterday the brothers and postulants travelled to Gilgo Beach in Babylon, Long Island, for a day of recollection. Late in the morning until early in the afternoon the postulants each shared their story of vocation, or calling, into life in Christian community, and into life with the Capuchin Franciscan fraternity. Although only a day before the great storm, the beach was a pleasant place to be. Though the skies were a little murky with moisture and the horizon was indistinct, the breeze was light, the sun was soaring, and the water was frothy and warm. The heat soaked into us, gently soothing us to sleepiness. After a casual evening prayer a barbecue with food from a slow-cooking charcoal grill carried us into the evening. With light conviviality we rode on westward to Brooklyn underneath the blackening skies.

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