Monthly Archives: May 2011

Map of my first journey

Again, click on the “View larger map” link right below the map and you’ll be taken to the Google map page where there are more ways to zoom in and look at the sites.

Main destinations are marked in blue; secondary ones in green.

Also, FYI, if you double click on one of the slide shows, you’ll be taken to the Picasa page where the pictures are stored. Here, there are other viewing options, including a rather accurate geo-tagging, which shows where the photo was taken, if you’re geeky like that.


Days 12-14, Comfort and joy

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So I got up early on Thursday morning, had breakfast with my aunt, got coffee at the local Buc-ee’s (for my aunt does not do coffee, and even those that do coffee very often get it at Buc-ee’s), and hit the road for Comfort, TX, where my parents live. It was about at 4 ½ hour drive, about the same as from Lebh Shomea to Clute, and I managed to avoid the Interstate for most of it, which meant I had 70 mph 2-lane highways pretty much to myself for a couple of hundred miles. I passed more cattle (including a few longhorns) and more sorghum; found some of the rice paddies, a bit more corn, a lot of soybeans, a nuclear power plant out in the middle of nowhere, and some more cattle; navigated my way onto the loop around San Antonio, and on out to Comfort, which is about 45 min northwest of the city. Somehow I got there ahead of time, having calculated my trajectory at 5 hours even, not 4 ½. It was okay; they held lunch for me.

After lunch, we needed to fetch steaks for dinner, so we drove into Kerrville, some 13 miles away, and, since I was looking for a pair of boots, we stopped at a couple of places where I eventually found a pair, ones such as I wore for years: plain, black Justins with a B-point toe. They fit like a firm handshake (as they should, per the sweet young thang that sold them to me), and having no room for another pair of footwear in my luggage, I had them shipped home. Good steaks are easy to find in Texas, if you know where to look, and we knew where to look, and had a fine dinner.

Having gotten up early on Friday morning, my step-daddy and I went to the local Mexican restaurant to hang with his cronies and get breakfast. I had some of the best tacos de carne guisada I ever put past my lips. You don’t know what you’re missing if you’ve never had carne guisada on thick homemade flour tortillas for breakfast.

Friday was the day we had originally planned to go into San Antonio to go boot shopping, and it was now free, so, taking my presence among them as a Sign for Greater Things To Come, my parents opted instead to head out the other way, northwest, to Llano (pronounced LAY-no in Texan), to make pilgrimage to Cooper’s for barbecue.

Of course, passing a rummage shop that was going out of business in Fredericksburg, my parents, as if compelled by Calvinist predestination, had to stop, and knowing how these stops work out, I begged to be let out in downtown Fredericksburg, where I wandered the stores until my parents had satisfied themselves that the rummage shop had nothing they couldn’t live without.

Good steaks are easy to find in Texas, and good barbecue is common enough, but exceptional barbecue, well, that’s worth driving 80 miles one way to get, and Cooper’s is worth the drive. I direct your attention to the slide show at the beginning of this post for pictures.

Cooper’s has ten (10) big ol’ outdoor pits, and they serve out of the one nearest the restaurant. The day we were there for lunch, they had pork (sausage, chops, tenderloin, and ribs), beef (sausage, brisket, sirloin, prime rib, and ribs), chicken (in quarters), and cabrito (that’s “kid goat” for you non-Texans, in miscellaneous, unidentifiable chunks, which is the way it is always served). You just pointed out what you wanted, and how much, and the gentlemen with the big knife and fork cut you off a hunk and threw it onto a cafeteria tray. Once you had all you wanted, he gave you the tray, which you passed to a man inside the restaurant, who weighed it out while you got your potato salad, cole slaw, peach and blackberry cobbler, ‘n’ such; then you paid for the whole mess, got a few sheets of waxed paper to serve instead of a plate, and went to sit down.

At Cooper’s, many things come free with the meal. The big ol’ pot o’ pinto beans, for example, is free (and Cooper’s makes better beans than the hermitage), along with raw onions for garnish, and refills on your soda and iced tea; loaves of bread are just set out on the tables, along with gallon jars of jalapeno peppers, and rolls of paper towels with which to daub the chins of the dainty, or to wipe yourself ear to ear, for those who know how to eat.

Whatever you (or I) are having for our next meal, well, it just pales in comparison. I have eaten fine meals with silver and china, but a miscellaneous, unidentifiable chunk of cabrito on a piece of waxed paper in Cooper’s seems to rank right up there among the best.

Having sated ourselves on barbecue and cobbler, my step-daddy wanted to get a couple of more Western shirts, so we headed another 30 miles to the northwest, to San Saba (Serbians take note), where Harry’s Western Wear is the place in the Hill Country to shop. Having been to Harry’s, I wished I had bought my boots here; simply to try on boots in such an establishment would be an experience. Having gotten shirts, we set out to buy some pecans for Mamma to shell while she watches TV, but on the way, we were distracted by the prospect of seeing the Regency suspension bridge over the Colorado River, which is famous in a local, not-very-well-known sort of way. This took us only 35 miles out of our way over unpaved gravel roads, but the bridge was worth a visit, I suppose, and it made for a little adventure while we digested our lunch. We got Mamma 10 lbs of Texas native pecans, cracked and ready for shellin’, and, being some 110 miles away from home by now, had a rather long drive back.

We had left over barbecue for dinner, though by oversight or by design, my blackberry cobbler did not make it to the dinner table, nor was it ever seen by my eyes again.

On Saturday, my step-daddy brought home potato and egg tacos for breakfast, and I left early for the airport, where I had an uneventful trip home.

I am home for some 2 ½ weeks now, until I attend Acton University in Grand Rapids, MI, in the middle of June, where I will be lecturing on an Orthodox approach to environmentalism. (That has nothing to do with the sabbatical, but it’s what I’m scheduled to do.) I suppose I will have some reflections to post, but, alas, no fine pictures, at least, not for a while.

Days 11 & 12, travelogue, Clute, TX

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Well. Major shift in gears occurred a few days ago.

Critters woke me up at Lebh Shomea on Monday morning at 4 am. I didn’t want to get up at 4 am, but the call to prayer having sounded, I got up anyway, said my office, packed up the last bit of my things and was out the gate at 6 am for the next part of my Texas trip. It was a bit strange leaving the hermitage for “civilization” again, but a decent Texas breakfast, with eggs, refried beans, corn tortillas and real coffee, numbed the pain of it.

I drove 4 ½ hours up the coastline to Clute, my hometown, to stay with my aunt, Susan, and possibly to visit with a few folk I knew. First stop, however, was to the cemetery where my Dad, my sister Marcia, and my mother’s parents are buried. I had brought a stole with me to sing a memorial service for them all, but I had hit upon a better thing to do while I was at the hermitage. The details of the better thing I omit from this blogpost, as it was a personal, family matter, and y’all don’t need to know about such things.

My aunt is doing well, and both of us being chatterboxes, I made up in a couple of days all the talking I had missed over a week at the hermitage.

Later in the afternoon, I decided to drive around my home town, which had about 600 people in it when I was a child there (some 35-50 years ago), but now boasts a population of 10,424. Things have changed, but I found people were still the same.

I drove to my childhood home and found the place is well maintained, and, feeling an unaccustomed brazenness, knocked on the door. An older man answered, I told him who I was, and he, being tickled to meet me, actually invited me inside. I met his wife and got to stand in the kitchen & dining room, where I found the tile on the kitchen counters brought back memories, for it had not been changed (yet, for what was fashionable in 1959 just doesn’t work in the new millennium), though the couple were in the process of sanding down the hardwood floors on which I, as a child, slid around in my socks. The couple had been in the house for some 15 years and were glad to hear some of the early history of it. We discussed the demise of the big pecan tree in the front yard, the loss of a couple of hackberry trees in the backyard, and other ravages of time. They also knew what had happened to most of the neighbors, and I got caught up on several decades worth of news.

One notable bit of information was that the neighborhood bully, R.S., who had made my childhood miserable (along with the childhoods of every other kid on my street) had, in the fullness of time, come to Jesus, settled down, married a fine woman, and was now on his eighth term as city judge. If that isn’t proof there is a God, I don’t what more you want.

The next day, having woken up at my usual hour before dawn, I sneaked out of the house (unsuccessfully) and went down to The Kolache Kitchen, where my great-uncle Billy Ed is accustomed to hang out with his cronies. Alas, he was not in, but I had a fine apricot kolache, though the coffee was bad. Feeling an unaccustomed brazenness, I sat down among the worthy elders who preside over The Kolache Kitchen from 5:30-7:30 am every weekday and joined their august assembly for several minutes of conversation.

In the late morning, I drove down to the Gulf coast (some 14 miles away), past the huge, sprawling complex of pipes, refracting towers, storage tanks, and other monuments of modern industrial alchemy that is Dow Chemical Co., to Surfside Beach. Though I am no fan of wet sand between my toes or the corrosive effects of salt water on everything, I do like the beach. I walked way out on the jetty, where all the fishermen were having a bad day fishing (ain’t it wonderful!) and again, feeling that unaccustomed brazenness, I sat down beside a couple of them to see how life, and the fishing, was. I had some very fine conversations, mostly about nothing much, which is as it should be while talking to strangers on the jetty.

In the early afternoon, my aunt took me to visit my great-uncle Billy Ed and his wife Alice Sue, who are the last of their generation in my family, and, alas, their age is showing badly. But then, I haven’t been in Clute in 13 years, and people do age a little in that amount of time.

I do like the Southern practice of calling people by both their names, but you have to must have the right kind of name for it to work (e.g., Essa Nell, Willie Pearl, Bobby Jack, Billy Joe). Proper Texas names are good to hear, too, like Austin and Travis for men. I think there are too many Brittanys and Chelseas in the world; a few more Rebel Anns, with an attitude to match the name, would be an improvement. But that is by the way.

In the late afternoon, I went to visit one of my Dad’s best friends, R.R., my Mom’s best friend, his wife J.R., who, of course, knew me when I was in diapers. Not only did I want to see them for myself and catch up, but I wanted to hear from them some recollections of my Dad, for which I had never asked before. I learned a few things I didn’t know, for which I am deeply grateful. R.R. had a meeting to attend, so J.R. took me back down to Surfside, to a fine hangout right on the beach, and we sat on the patio and watched the waves over ½ pound burgers, onion rings, and cold beer. I spent 5 hours talking with them. A very satisfying time.

So much for the trip to the bustling metropolis of Clute, TX, my home town.

Day 7, pretty stuff

Nothing deep in this post, only a few pictures from around the grounds that I thought were pretty, and some mockingbird song, which is always worth listening to.

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* * *

* * *

I saw the bobcat again yesterday evening, while I was out walking after dinner (the weather improved a lot over what it was on Thursday). I may have found his lair, because he was lying down in a shady spot, and it was very close to the same spot I first saw him, and got his picture, on Monday. I stumbled onto him, and we looked at each other for a couple of seconds, from about 10 feet apart, and he decided he wanted nothing to do with me, and left. Pity; he was beautiful to look at. I guess I wasn’t.

* * *

The world has grown frothy with God,
Life leavened with greening grace,
rising, expanding, over-spilling its bounds,
the whole wet, messy, sticky-stuff
headiness of it all,
that blows blossoms out of their sockets,
calls the steps of the mating dance,
soars falcons through the sky,
prompts fawns to fawn and graze,
strikes full-throated exuberance from birds;
a stiff brew that enlarges the heart,
addles the mind,
and knocks you to your knees.
Can one grow drunk on prayer?

Day 6, travelogue

St Eugene de Mazenod

Catholics don’t know how to celebrate. I say this with all love, but it’s true. Here is proof:

Today is the 125th anniversary of the passing of St Eugene de Mazenod, the founder of the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate, under whose auspices Lebh Shomea operates, and to which order Fr Kelly belongs. It is, therefore, the feast day of St Eugene and his order. In the little room off the vestibule of the church, where the tabernacle is kept (a complaint for another post), there is a small statue of St Eugene and a relic of his. Whenever I come into the chapel, I always stop here first and pay my respects to the Lord in His tabernacle and to the local Saint. Seems the Christian and neighborly thing to do.

There were proper readings at Mass this morning for St Eugene, I will give them that, and Fr Kelly offered some reflections on his life in a brief homily. He was born of French aristocracy some six years before the Revolution in France and his family fled to Italy to escape the Terror. The family was dysfunctional, with his parents separating in a vicious divorce and mamma taking up incestuously with a cousin of hers. Yet in the midst of such horror and pain, Eugene found Christ and went on to found an order of missionaries, as well. This much we learned. Apart from that, nothing else was done to mark the feast.

I couldn’t stand it.

I collared Fr Kelly as he was recessing out after the Mass and asked if I could offer a blessing, to which he consented, so I sang him and his order “Many Years,” to the general pleasure of everyone there (I think, too, that many people love Fr Kelly dearly and maybe they don’t have many opportunities to show it, given the ordo of this place).

Now, had this been an Orthodox church, there would, of course, have been Vigil with Litya the evening before, the Icon of the Saint and his relic would have been in the center of the church for everyone to venerate, neighboring clergy would have come to concelebrate (admittedly, there are no neighbors, much less neighboring clergy, in these parts) and he would have had a Troparion which we all would have known and sang. There would be a relaxation of the rules of the monastery (perhaps no work obediences today); dispensation for fish, wine, and oil (had it been a fasting day) or something special to eat in the refectory, along with a cup of wine, for the glory of God.

But this is not an Orthodox place, it is Catholic, and Catholics, I maintain, don’t know how to celebrate. I suggested to Fr Kelly and Sr Marie that, in honor of St Eugene, there should be ice cream at lunch.

I’m not holding my breath.

* * *

Yesterday it was hot. Really hot, as in 93 degrees and God-only-knows-how-high-the-humidity hot. Anybody working outside in such weather is doomed to misery and sweat. But I, I was standing still to pray in my cell and sweat was dripping down the small of my back and rolling off my face to hit the floor. When you sweat like that just standing still, it’s too damned hot. I gave up being macho and turned on the air conditioner.

The big ol’ pot o’ pinto beans that appears every day at lunch has become as comfortable as an old shoe. I caught myself smiling when I saw them today in their usual place, two big serving spoons sticking out of the bowl, and had mine garnished with sweet Vidalia onion. Cold cuts every night for supper, however, have gotten old. Maybe cold cuts have had all the soul pressed out of them while pintos still possess their beany souls. I don’t know, but it’s hard to love a cold meat sandwich.

* * *

A snake crossed the road this morning
like a train
I stopped my prayer to let him pass
without the clatter, smooth as oil,
as quiet as I hope to be.
I marked the point of his tail on the road
when his head touched the grass.
Six feet long he was,
longer than I am tall.
He sought a cool place to rest,
moving as his nature bids,
closer to God
for trailing on the ground.

* * *

I take it all back. There was ice cream at lunch.

Day 5, a little about prayer

Chapel of the Little Children

I am one of those people who is tempted to read about something rather than actually do it, and it is the same with prayer. Sometimes I think I haven’t spent as much time praying as I have spent reading about prayer. Here at Lebh Shomea I’ve been given an opportunity to do something to change that. Apart from my usual level of mindfulness of God throughout the day (minimal); reading and meditation on Scripture (Bible? What Bible?); the (very) brief prayers I pause to offer; and wandering around the grounds prayer rope in hand (gawking at the wildlife); I’ve settled into this daily routine of formal prayer:

5:30 am, Morning prayer rule (45 min).
7:00 am, Mass with the community (30 min).
10:55—11:55 am (when the lunch bell rings), Jesus Prayer (60 min).
4:55 – 5:55 pm (when the dinner bell rings), Jesus Prayer (60 min).
6:30—6:45 pm, evening prayer rule (15 min)
Bedtime prayers (5 min)

That’s 3 ½ hours of standing-before-the-Icon kind of prayer a day. It ain’t easy, especially the Jesus Prayer part.

I say the Jesus Prayer before lunch and dinner because it’s easier to concentrate when I’m not full from a meal, and also because the bell will tell me when my hour is up and I can better resist the temptation to go look at the clock to see if I’m done yet. (Yeah, it happens to the best of us.)

I remember reading about Elder Sophrony, when he was still a monk at St Panteleimon’s on Mt Athos, how a respected brother came to visit him and Sophrony was offering him hospitality by brewing a pot of tea. The monk asked Sophrony about prayer, and Sophrony said to him, “You stand at the edge of the abyss for as long as you can stand it, then you step back and have a cup of tea,” and he served the monk a cup of tea. I am trying to push myself a little, to stand, if not at the abyss, at least within sight of the abyss, for a little longer than I think I can stand it, because I’m figuring I underestimate what my endurance really is, and I know where the desire for that cup of tea comes from.

Some observations about prayer, a few of them actually based on experience:

It’s better to keep your eyes open when you pray, even if you catch yourself studying the patterns on the wall.

Staying in the present moment, in the here and now, is very hard work. Don’t beat yourself up when you fail. Repeatedly, ’cause you will. And then you’ll fail some more. Just bring your attention back to the prayer.

When you get tired, simply try to focus and keep your mind on the words of the prayer, which St John Climacus says is the safest way to practice the Jesus Prayer anyway.

Don’t expect to pray well. Don’t expect to pray poorly. Don’t expect anything at all.

Just showing up to pray is half the battle. Continuing to show up, moment by moment, is the other half.

Prayer won’t get any easier with practice. One of the Fathers of the desert says, “Prayer is warfare to the last breath.” That shouldn’t discourage us from praying; it should just clear away some false expectations.

The best prayers seems to be the briefest, like the Jesus Prayer, or the prayer of the Canaanite woman (“Lord, help me”), or the prayer of the father of the paralytic boy (“I believe, help my unbelief”), or like the Psalms (“Give me understanding according to your Word”).

Thinking about prayer isn’t praying. Reading about prayer isn’t praying. Wanting to pray isn’t praying. Intending to get up and go pray isn’t praying. Praying is praying.

If your attitude toward prayer is carnal or psychological, feelings matter. If your attitude is spiritual, they don’t.

One of the Fathers says, if prayer goes well, everything goes well.

The Benedictine abbot, Dom Cuthbert Butler (no relation) said, “Pray as you can, not as you can’t.”

Day 4, travelogue

So cute!

Cell phone reception here at Lebh Shomea is abominable, since we are in the middle of nowhere, but curiously, 3G internet reception is marginally better than abominable, and when it works, I can tether my netbook to the internet through my phone (Droid rules!). But I wanted to talk with Annette, so yesterday afternoon I felt like adventure and drove 25 miles into Kingsville to a coffee shop to have a cup of real coffee and talk with my wife.

The coffee was bliss, but it actually felt strange being back in “civilization,” and once I had finished my phone call and the coffee, I got right back into the car and headed back to my cell. The kind of peace I have here is precious, and I found I missed it.

At any rate, I didn’t really want to drive 25 miles for a cup of coffee; so on the way back, I stopped in the little town of Sarita, which is only 5 miles from the House of Prayer, to inquire after the local coffee shop. There were a couple of old Hispanic women talking outside the food bank, whom I asked. They laughed at my question. There isn’t a coffee shop in town. Actually, there’s scarcely even a town to call “Sarita.” It’s the county seat of Kenedy County, and, as far as I could see, it consists of

  • (1) the courthouse,
  • (2) the courthouse annex,
  • (3) the sheriff’s office,
  • (4) something call the Kenedy Pasture Company,
  • (4) one little church (Our Lady of Guadalupe, of course),
  • (5) a very small elementary school (part of Kenedy County Consolidated School District, which tells you the ratio of cattle—or oil/natural gas wells—to people around here),
  • (6) the local food bank (which tells you about the economy), and
  • (7) a couple of dozen houses.

There’s no coffee to be bought in all of Sarita, though I was kindly referred to the vending machines in the sheriff’s office if I wanted a snack. (God bless ’em, you can’t make this stuff up.)

The nearest coffee shop is in Riviera, about 5 miles up the road. I’m actually curious now, and will have to make an excursion to find it; if I do, I will report back.

Random observations:

The big bowl of pinto beans appeared on the buffet table at lunch again today. Methinks it’s part of the daily fare in these parts. In Guatemala, you got your daily black bean paste; in Mexico, you got your frijoles refritos; in Texas, you got your big ol’ pot o’ pinto beans, which all true Texans love anyway, since we were all weaned on red beans and rice. And yes, there was a bowl of rice (with butter in it, such as my Mamma used to make), to go with, as well as the customary raw onions and jalapeño peppers with which to garnish said beans. (It’s probably a Really Good Thing that this is a hermitage and we all live by ourselves in separate cells…)

My old friend the armadillo, the Texas national mascot, stopped by to pay his respects last evening. I returned his kindness by immortalizing him in the photo which graces this post. Javalinas also came calling, but well after dark, and I never saw them, but I heard their grunts. St Gerasimos of the Jordan had a lion. St Seraphim of Sarov had a bear. Me? I get hairy wild pigs. I’ll take the armadillo instead.

Breakfast here consists largely of fiber. White bread seems to be disallowed, there is only whole wheat. Of four kinds of breakfast cereal set out, one is 100% bran something or another, and one is Grapenuts (the other two are sensible cereals, Cheerios and plain corn flakes). And there is the usual dish of prunes. Prayer isn’t the only thing that’s regular around here…

If we sang Liturgy as slowly as these Catholics say Mass, we’d be at it four hours.

Part of learning the eremtical-contemplative life is developing buns of steel. There isn’t a soft chair in the whole place.

Today it decided to rain, so instead of 85 degrees and 85% humidity, it’s 85 and 100%. I do love Texas. There is a small air conditioner in my cell, but I haven’t used it yet, out of fear that I’ll not venture out of doors if I get used to it being cool. I may be forced into using it at some point though; everything in the cell is now damp: clothes, books, and bed; the towel isn’t drying out. A man can take only so much clamminess.

But all of that is by the way. The day is good. Serious, substantive reflections if and when any occur to me.


Day 3, The Noonday Demon

Yesterday morning, a little before lunch, I was looking out the window of my cell, when I remembered this little gem from Abba Evagrius:

The demon of acedia, also called the noonday demon, [see Psalm 91:6] is the most oppressive of all the demons. He attacks the monk towards the fourth hour [10 am] and besieges the soul until the eighth hour [2 pm]. He begins by giving the impression that the sun is hardly moving, or not moving at all, and that the day has at least forty hours. After this, he continually draws the monk to his window; he forces him to go out of his cell to look at the sun and calculate how much time still separates him from the ninth hour (that is, the time for Vespers and dinner), and finally to look about here and there to see if some brother is not coming to see him…

I have new respect both for Abba Evagrius and for this demon. I knew that coming to a hermitage and plunging into a week’s worth of solitude would be tough, but I didn’t expect this particular visitation within the first 24 hours. Here is a partial list of what Demon Acedia (pronounced ah-keh-DEE-uh) has visited upon me:

  • Restlessness, an inability to sit still. I find myself jumping up from my prayers or from my reading or writing and realizing it only after I’m already on my feet. (The fact that every chair in the whole place is hard isn’t helping).
  • Literally getting up and going to look out the window like the hapless monk in Abba’s story.
  • Boredom. Again, I’m astonished it hit after only one day. Fills me with the idea that this is going to be a lo-o-o-ng week.
  • Sleepiness. I took two naps yesterday, one in the morning and one before dinner. The last time I napped twice in one day I was laid up with the flu.
  • Mental fog. Difficulty concentrating on what is at hand and of remembering what I was just reading.
  • Yearning for self-medication: coffee (there isn’t any here, of all the God-awful tricks to play on me); chocolate, candy, salty snacks (of which there are none); surfing the ‘Net, reading blogs (my internet connection is very weak and sporadic at best), so none of these things is possible. Depriving me of coffee, chocolate and internet all at the same time is probably a task for a mental institution, four-point restraints, and the careful supervision of a doctor. Instead, I am learning patience and fortitude, all under the gentle tutelage of Acedia.
  • Wanting to check my e-mail and my blogsite for signs that people are reading what I write and responding with approval. My vanity and self-esteem want their strokes… badly. Is my writing engaging, witty? Am I missed yet?
  • Wishing I had someone to complain to, who would offer me sympathy and comfort. This is just bullsh*t, and I know it, but the “pull of regression” is there for all of us just when the going gets tough.

And those are a few of the things I’m okay with mentioning (this is a G-rated blog, and we’ll pass over in silence the more chthonic fruit of concupiscence and irascibility).

One of the other desert Fathers said, “Sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” I can see how this is true; it would have been helpful for the good Father to have mentioned, if only in passing, that you are not going to like what you learn, even though it’s the best thing for you.

(By the way, I am much better today. Establishing more structure for my time and sticking with it helps a lot. As Brother Akedia has wandered off to afflict one of the other guests here, I expect some other of his infernal brethren will be along directly to teach me humility in his/her/its own way…)

Day 2, my choirs

My Vespers choir from last evening:

My Matins choir from this morning:

And just to carry on the nature theme of this post, I met a few more of my neighbors while out walking this morning. First, there’s the ubiquitous fire ant colony:

Fire Ants!

Then there’s the local sanitation engineers, the dung beetles:

Dung Beetle

Then I came across these two handsome fellows, and I’m not sure exactly what they are, beyond raptors of some kind:

Raptors? Yes, Crested Cara Caras

I caught an example of their call. There’s only one instance, and it’s about 1/3 of the way through this audio clip, at about 10 seconds, so don’t listen further than that:

And then, as I was walking about the ranch, about 3/4 mile from the House of Prayer, I saw something far ahead of me on the road. I though it was a coyote, and it had upset some white-tail deer that were nearby. When I got the picture uploaded onto my netbook and zoomed in on it, lo and behold, it wasn’t a coyote, it was an ocelot [correction: bobcat]! First one I’ve ever seen in the wild.

Ocelot! Nope, Bobcat, but cool nonetheless

You can tell it’s an ocelot [bobcat] by the tufts of fur on the tips of its ears. They’re about 4 times bigger than a house cat. I caught some audio, too. If you listen carefully, in the first several seconds, what sounds like a child crying, or a cat meowing, is the ocelot [bobcat], and the loud barking noise is the deer in distress:

Day 2, reflections

1 hour a day, 3 times a day

Awake at 4:15 this morning (still on Eastern Time). No going back to sleep, and with my choir already starting Matins, I got up for my rule of prayer.

Attended Mass with the other retreatants. The Catholic Mass can be beautiful, even when done with spare simplicity, as it is here. (I can’t abide, however, some Catholic casualness, like sitting through parts of the Anaphora, and I had to stand up.) There was one interesting departure from standard Catholic practice: after the Scripture reading, we were invited to turn to our neighbor and say, briefly, what had struck us most from the readings. They had read from Acts, 11.19-26, about the founding of the church in Antioch (“where the disciples were first called Christians”), and I was struck by the disciples who went to Antioch and dared to preach to the Gentiles, thus violating the the early Church’s expectations and practice of preaching only to the Jews. I noted how God blessed their efforts, even though they disregarded the boundaries, went outside the “safe zone” and preached to people who “aren’t like us.” Perhaps this was a word for the man sitting next to me. He was struck by the description of Barnabas being “a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.” Perhaps this was a word for me? The recollection of it certainly stayed with me all day.

Arranged to see Fr F. Kelley Nemeck after lunch for spiritual direction. He suggested that, for my time here, I pick one book out of the Scriptures, whichever appeals to me, for spiritual reading. Read it whenever it strikes me to read it, and for however long, then put it down again. But read it without purpose or agenda, not looking to find something in particular in the text, but to read it simply, as Eli told Samuel to respond, “Speak, Lord, your listening servant.” Leave God free to speak through His Word, or not.

He also suggested I pray three times a day, for an hour at a time, simply listening to God. The Jesus Prayer is okay for this. (As Fr Zachariah says, simply to “present myself before the Lord.”) But don’t read Scripture during prayer time.

I had asked him about hearing Confessions, or listening to people who come to me for counsel. He says it isn’t always necessary to answer. If God doesn’t give us a word, that’s okay (note that Fr Kelley implies that it is God who answers, not us). Listening, and listening well, is very important. It’s also important not to fill all the time with talk: let the silence be. (We shouldn’t be too quick to speak because we can’t stand the silence ourselves; this may take some work on our part.) The silence is important because it leave the other person free (by not imposing our words, or worse, our preferences, opinions or agenda) on him/her, and it also leaves God free to speak, both to the other and to me, if He chooses.

In all that Fr Kelley said, the common theme was not to impose my own agenda or assert my will when I go to encounter God or my neighbor, but rather to leave both God and neighbor free when we meet.