Sunday, August 1, 2010

Melding Matters - Concluding Post

I think the one word that best describes the life I’ve lived is one that has oft been used to describe the hard life of a farmer scratching out a subsistence living on a poor spot of land. Mine has always been a hardscrabble way of life, of making do and getting by, of having, thanks be to God, just enough with a little left over.

This isn’t to be viewed as a bad thing. It has, in fact, been quite an educational adventure, one with knocks and bruises that I’ve given myself, one with knocks and bruises others have given me. I’ve made some bad decisions that have had disastrous consequences. I’ve also made some very good ones. It seems that even the good ones have had their share of certain social consequences.

The truth of the matter is that personal success, in whatever slight measure, can often be a source of jealousy, envy, and their accompanying sundry rotten fruits. People are going to make judgments, whether they are looking up at our feet or down upon our heads; it matters not where we sit or stand, how low we go or how high we ascend. I am as guilty of judgmentalism as the next person and, like the next person, am quite adept at justifying my mental determinations and measurements.

I have not always tried to live up to the moral Christian upbringing that I received as a child growing up at home and in Sunday lessons at the little church down the road from the home place. No. My life-closet contains its own collection of hanging skeletons.

I have, and it pains and shames me to admit it, planted well-placed knocks and bruises onto others, both figuratively and quite literally. I have intimately known the life of the Prodigal Son and still, in one way or another, after returning to the Grand Estate of the Father, find that my mind has a propensity to wander a bit, albeit not too far from the barn where I’ve chosen to make my bunk in the hay loft.

Over the course of these past several years, I have been working through the difficult process of discovering, uncovering, understanding, and returning to the unadulterated original self that I am. Not only in matters concerning a more historical divine faith, but also in matters related to accepting the inheritance of my own cultural heritage.

These are greatly challenging and integrally related matters that I am no longer able to rationally and intelligently divest from one another. These are matters that have challenged me to deep consideration, demanded personal action, and also accrued divers and sundry consequences that I am more than willing to shoulder the responsibility of.

These matters essentially come down to one matter. It is a matter of recognition and integration, of melding all the known composite matters into their one strong form rather than trying to sift out one particular element deeming it better than all the others. It is, after all, the composite of strokes that paint the picture, not one single brush-stroke.

The conclusion of the matter is this: I can’t figure anything out for anyone else. That is something that every individual must do for themselves. Nor do I believe that figuring anything out for my self, if I honestly ever do, is going to make some tremendous earthquake impact on the world, up close or at large.

Perhaps one here and there may pick up on some crumb they feel is significant; find some signpost that assists them in hewing out their own path toward their own providential destiny. If that happens, or if that has happened, in some slight measure, well, God once used an ass to speak to a man so I have no reason for elation or self-inflation.

It is time to close this chapter and begin outlining and investing in the next one. This post will therefore be the concluding post to these many blog-pages. Oblate Offerings will however remain accessible as long as this electronic host continues as a free turn-out along the electronic highway, or until such that I feel it appropriate to relegate these pages to the historical section of a metal filing cabinet.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Lived Experience

One afternoon last week the combination of temperature and humidity gave us a heat index of 109 degrees. It’s been hot all summer on the South Coast with the heat index topping out most days above 100. A body just doesn’t have much get-up-and-go when the heat and humidity is this high. I suppose it is part of the cost we pay for the mild winters we enjoy.

Work, the kind that I do to earn an income, becomes a grueling affair in this heat. I try to get done early so I’m out of the worst of the afternoon heat. It is a good plan. But it is a plan that doesn’t always pan out. Not with the amount of rain we’ve had this summer. Our frequent rains have kept the grass growing. Folks want their lawns to look nice. And keeping their lawns looking nice is what they pay me to do.

The economics of these times looms over our heads so, get-up-and-go or no, I push through and suffer the toll taking effects. I simply don’t have the luxury to do otherwise despite the fact that the process of aging has begun to exacerbate the effects. There is no avoiding it. Getting through the summer months sets itself up as the seasonal priority.

In a couple of months I will arrive at my third anniversary as an Oblate. That decision came after a few years of reading monk-thoughts and studying monk-life. Over these past several years I have spent quite a bulk of time pondering, writing, and leaving behind these close to 200 pages of a paper trail regarding this lived experience. These years and pages of reflections have brought me to some not so surprising conclusions.

The first is that very few people living in the world today, Catholics included, have any interest at all in things Benedictine. Monastic spirituality, in the eyes of the modern world, is looked upon as an outdated expression. It has no inherent value to the largest bulk of the people of these times.

Another is that, despite my efforts to emulate monk-life, I am not a monk. I do not live within a cloistered environment where all my daily needs are supplied from day one to day last. The Rule does continue to present itself as a marvelous guide filled with good advice. This is advice that must however be seasoned by the realities of life as it individually discovers us outside the monastic enclosure.

I have found that, in this world outside the cloister, attempts to adhere strictly to the fundamental rigors and routines prescribed by St. Benedict for cloistered monk-life is a sure course this side of the wall toward living with a constant sense of guilt for falling short of the mark. This is an arena wherein I am, with or without the help of the Rule, quite self-accomplished.

The sound of the gentle shower that fell on our roof before daylight this morning lulled me back to restful sleep. I needed it.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Personal Note

No. I'm not AWOL or fallen into a deep hole. I'm simply working on another very personal project that involves a great deal of time and personal energy.

Peace,
David

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Waking From An Induced Coma

I barely knew my grandmothers. I was just a pup out of diapers when my maternal grandmother died and hardly more than one when my paternal grandmother went to her grave. I never met my paternal Czech immigrant grandfather and have no recollection in my earliest memories of my maternal grandfather. Both of these men made their way to South Alabama to scratch out their livings as hardscrabble farmers.

My dad was the youngest child born to Alois and Emily. He came to life in this world in Minnesota. The rest of his siblings were born in Europe. His oldest sister, already married, remained in Czechoslovakia when the rest of the family immigrated to the United States in the early part of the Twentieth Century. Tracing this lineage beyond the point of their immigration is not an impossible task. It is, however, a rather difficult one considering the language obstacle.

If there is one thing I regret about my Czech ancestry it is that my dad felt no necessity in teaching us the primary language that filled his family home. On the occasions when his siblings gathered together, their conversations were carried on predominately in the Czech language, interspersed briefly with English.

His mother learned only a very few words of the English language. Though she lived out her “old age” years in a little house built by my dad on our small farm, I was never able to carry on anything that resembled an intelligent conversation with her. I often walked over to visit grandma but suffice it to say that our conversations were carried on through a lot of primitive trial and error pointing and grunting. Without knowing the Czech language there are rivers without bridge crossings.

It is, however, in discovering and uncovering the long and very interesting American history of my mother’s paternal and maternal lines that I find my attention predominately arrested. It is a history that grows more detailed, interesting, and meaningful with each unfolding of the historical pages that have, until this point in time, been lost to my own awareness.

The awakening awareness of my own living personal heritage can be likened to finally waking from something of an induced coma of ancestral sleep, one that was imposed upon me in my formative infancy. This description, as good as it is, is still inadequate to describe this process that I’m discovering to be life-altering.

PHOTO: My maternal grandparents, John and Vada Harbison

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Seeing In The Dark

It is hard for most people to imagine, especially in these modern times, life as it was three or four or five generations ago. Life was, in many regards, much simpler and far less harried despite the lack of comfortable conveniences and technological advances that we know in our times. That, anyway, is my impression.

I have always been given to the desire to go back in time, to step out of the craziness that forms the character of the time-generation that I have inherited by virtue of birth. There is a part of me that has learned to content itself with the tools of our times. I haven’t yet had to trim the hooves on that fancy gas powered tiller and I don’t have to keep a crib full of oats and a loft full of hay to feed it when it’s not in use.

The desire to return, where I am concerned, to before-generations has some to do with the simplification of tools and lifestyles. It has, however, more to do with knowing and understanding the lives of the very real men and women whose character and nature has tricked down over the generations to inevitably and unavoidably find reposit in this modern day passer through time and in his progeny.

I think one of the greatest tragedies of these modern times, at least where my own passage through life is concerned, is the sense of generational unknowing that has, until these more recent times, held me captive within something of a time-suspension capsule. I knew there was more to my own personal reality, dimensions that I could not see, dimensions that I was incapable of rationally naming and understanding.

It has only been of late that recognizable images have begun to appear in the darkness outside this gelatin shell, names, people, and circumstances that I did not know. I am finding it more than interesting, more than a mere gathering of historical genealogical data. These are names, people, and circumstances that are becoming real to me, giving definition to my own inherent personal identity.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

One Eye At A Time

I can’t recall its name and probably couldn’t pronounce it if I could. I was born with it, learned to live with it, and was close to thirty when an optometrist in Houston told me the name of the predicament. His only advice was that I shouldn’t take up flying. I wouldn’t have any difficulty taking off or staying in the air. The problem would occur in landing. Touching down would tend to be a little bumpy.

The predicament is that I don’t look through both eyes at the same time. It’s not something that’s obvious to people. As a child, however, I spent a lot of time with one eye closed, usually my right eye. Some folks thought I had a lazy eye. Kids in grade school made fun of me. I gradually trained myself to keep both eyes open essentially to avoid lessening the social rejection and abuse that I received in school.

I go about my life and live in the world with both eyes open but the truth of the matter is that, despite appearances, I’m only looking at it with one eye at a time. Corrective lenses address other vision issues. This particular predicament does not lend itself to correction. There’s really nothing to correct. It is a matter that is just the way it is.

Perhaps the matter is something genetic. I am not an authority on that but it is interesting to consider, especially in light of the discoveries related to the mass of genealogical archaeology of late regarding my mother’s maternal and paternal lines.

It is true that we possess the potential to make ourselves into anything that we choose and put our energies to. It is also true that, despite what we are able to make of ourselves, or, for that matter, fail to make of ourselves, we are still inherently the product of our genetic chemistry.

One eye at a time. Perhaps the matter is integrally related to the irony inherent in my own divided historical Northern Alabama maternal lineage, a heritage that has, where I am concerned, for too long been buried in neglected cemeteries and shallow unmarked graves.

The ancient proverb teaches to “incline thine ear unto wisdom, and apply thine heart to understanding.” For all my efforts to learn and to do, for all my successful and failed efforts at carving out a life in this world, I think I’m finally beginning to discover and understand something of the ancestral human spirit residing within and motivating this human carriage.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Connections

I never gave the business much thought or consideration, until these more recent years. For meaningful and useful purposes, knowledge of my ancestral roots was limited to the generation represented by my mother and father, their immediate siblings, and a small league of first-cousins.

Most of my life has been lived in the proverbial here and now with a mindset that was essentially carried along by the concerns and currents, by the winds and waves, of contemporary life in these present times. Little of the oral history regarding my ancestry had been passed down to me. My genealogical roots were therefore necessarily short and shallow. That mindset began to take on something of a different nature a few years ago when Shirli started the long and arduous process of digging and unearthing the genealogical artifacts of my ancestral Southern lineage.

While it would be something of a truthful expression, to say that the fruit of her efforts have been interesting and historically revelatory would not adequately express the effects that her research and discoveries have begun to have on me. No. Their import is of much larger significance.

Their effects are life changing. They are reconnecting me with my own ancestral history, giving insight into the substance of my own animated human character, providing answers to many of the gnawing and haunting unanswered questions that have ever been integrally embedded deep within the fabric of my being, questions that I did not know how to ask. I will ever be in her debt for her inquisitive love of history, for her love for the hunt that compels her to invest multiplied long hours digging, searching for, and finding the real bones from whence my own genes derive.

Its inevitability is unavoidable. One of these days mortality will overtake me. I’ll be dead and gone. That inevitable crossing, one that makes me seriously ponder the worth of life and the manner in which so much of life in modernity reflects an orphaned nature, grows closer with each passing day. I’ll do my best to hold it at bay as long as I can but I must admit that the years seem to be stacking up faster. The time that we have in this world is a precious gift, one that pleads for wise investment.

An urgent question is raised in our Christian Scriptures. “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” It seems rather obvious to me that the proprietary impetus of this modern society is to treat our historic foundations of faith, honor, and loyalty with contempt, garnering in their place other obvious results. We have largely, as a society in these rapidly changing and uncertain times, become a society of wandering orphans.

I do not, for the sake of my progeny and for other interested souls, want to pass from this world without leaving behind something of an accurately reconstructed record of our personal historical Southern legacy, one that brings us to this particular and peculiar 21st Century juncture in time. I consider this record, one of garnered factual data necessarily interspersed with the most educated and intelligent surmise that we can possible assemble, to be the most valuable gift that I can possibly procure and lay on the table before them.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

A Goliath With No Little David

The smell is obvious. At times, when the southerly breezes kick up, it permeates the dense humid atmosphere that is so much a familiar part of life close to the coast during the summer. It smells like crude oil. No. It doesn’t have any rotten egg smell. It’s been aerating long enough for the smell of hydrogen sulfide to dissipate. It just smells like oil.

The full reality of this manmade catastrophe, something that looms on the horizon, is yet to be seen. We know it’s out there. We’ve seen bits and bands of it. We’ve already seen the effects of their small scale assaults on local economies and coastal wildlife. These showings, however, have only been teases. They’ve only been small sorties.

The bulk of the multiplied millions of gallons of crude oil that have belched from the belly of the earth into the Gulf over these past several weeks is still waiting for the right combination of conditions to make any kind of major claim or exact a most horrific toll.

The waiting is wearying, soul wearying. More so now that we’ve entered the time of year when the tropics are capable of producing the tropical storms and hurricanes that make life along the coast interesting enough. It’s like knowing an unstoppable invading hoard has amassed just over the hill and there’s no place to run to for safety, no Little David with a sling and a few smooth round stones to take it on.

Adding to the strength of this Goliath is the reality that nothing done to stop it dead in its tracks has worked. Dispersants have only exacerbated and complicated the problem. Despite this latest attempt to plug the hole, and despite the statements by the responsible agent that the latest attempt has slowed the blow by ½, oil is still gushing faster than skimmers on the water and crews on the beaches can clean it up.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Degrees

I don’t need a meteorologist to tell me that it’s gotten hot and humid. All I have to do is walk outside. Those pleasant months of nice spring weather are behind us. Now it’s just sub-tropical heat and humidity until things start cooling down. It will seem like a long time before the cooler autumn breezes begin making their appearance in October.

June 2nd is Primary Day. The roads, highways, and front lawns are littered with campaign signs and placards. It’s really a “red, white, and blue” eye-sore. The smut and smear campaigns on the television have been an ear-sore. After the 2nd the ads will get really dirty. Then it becomes even more of a political party issue.

For the first time in the history of this “Cotton State” an African-American Democrat is running for the Office of the Governor. He’s a Senator. We’ve heard him speak to an audience at Spring Hill College a few years ago. He’s a good speaker and I have to give him a lot of credit for the accomplishments in his life. Things have changed a lot since the Wallace Era in Alabama. Are they about to change even more?

My day to day life is so far removed from all the politics and agendas that have folks stirred up. Personally, I’m more concerned about how many ears of corn we’ll get out of seven rows, how many bushels of potatoes we’ll dig from two rows, how many quarts of green beans we get from four rows, and getting a decent stand of field peas and okra growing in that dust in the garden.

There’s a lot that’s uncertain and I’ll be the first to admit that there’s a lot that I don’t know. There’s a lot that I don’t want to know. There’s a lot that I wish I didn’t know. There is a lot that I wish I could forget.

I do know that without a living and relational vital awareness of the Trinity, and the higher ideals inherently detailed in that awareness, narcissism, in its myriad assortment of inviting and deceptive degrees, inevitably becomes the dominating rule of life; an inordinate love of self that sets itself up front and in center as the stage that the whole of life plays out on.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Soul Drought

God is not a God of coercion. He is the Great Lover wooing souls unto him.

If the world wants to go to blazes, that’s the world’s prerogative. The world has that right. I don’t know why it would want to exercise that right. Salvation is however a matter of choice and I have to be secure enough in my own self to let others choose their own life paths and eternal destinies.

The most serious global warming in our age is not that arena that concerns itself with the average daily temperatures monitored by weather stations and measured with modern digital thermometers. It is the arena represented by the instability in the moral climate of the age. It’s not just the poles that are rapidly deteriorating and melting away. I make no apologies in thinking the moral fabric of society is rotting and falling apart.

As for me, my soul is thirsty, like our gardens in need of a generous rain. I know the temporary solution for the drought in these small fields that supply us with food for our table. Turn on the faucet and let the life-giving water flow through the hose.

My own personal soul-drought, a condition exacerbated by the realities of living in a stress generating workaday world and by the emotional dimensions associated with living in relationship with people out of step with the Gospel Ideal, is not so easily tended to. It’s not as simply remedied as the problem affecting our gardens.

The daily rhythm of the tedium designed into St. Benedict’s guidelines for integrating the Gospel Ideal is not a matter of rigid performance for the sake of monastic appearance. It is as purposeful as keel ballast on a sailing vessel. It keeps the top up and the bottom down when the going gets rough and the wind blows hard against the sails. It sets the stage for longevity and stability not only within monastic enclosures but works remarkably well in the here and now of life in the world outside the monastery.

The “labor of obedience” (RB Prologue 2) calls for more than simply and occasionally turning on a proverbial faucet, something that I admittedly discover myself to be too often guilty of.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Square One

No matter how studiously I may apply myself to spiritual reading, or how devotionally disciplined I may be to times of prayer and meditation, there remains constantly with me that part of my own self that remains illiterate, undisciplined, and unruly in the ways and means of God.

It is this part of this self of mine that constantly reminds me that I yet have a long way to go in a journey of becoming Christ-like. The spirit is indeed willing. I want to become “like” the Great Master in every detail of the ideals presented in his Gospel-life. The flesh, however, is what it is and it has a way of getting in the way of being that example.

The Apostle Paul mentions pummeling himself to keep himself on the straight and narrow pathway. He uses other dire terminology in describing his journey – pressing toward, dying daily. Although I do not believe Paul tortured himself in acts of self-pugilization, errors that some, over the course of time, have made in their efforts to emulate his example of following Christ, there is something of a literal nature inherent in his personal allegorical descriptions.

I’m discovering that I’m a square one. In things Christian, in things Oblate, I find that I am continually returning to square one. I’m continually returning to the simple basics, starting over again and again with the basic building blocks, returning to my proverbial “cell” to learn again how to keep my estate small and low, learning again how to crawl.

There is a large difference between presumption and reliance in God’s economy. I do not presume upon or take for granted the grace and mercy of God. I rely upon them and in my reliance recognize and admit, as the Psalmist in 65.3, that my own misdeeds prevail against me insisting my continuous pleas for mercy.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Living In The Land Of Ooze

I like the smell of honeysuckle. It’s especially nice when blended with the smell of Ligustrum Vulgare, the common Privet that sets a lot of folks to sneezing and suffering other symptoms that resemble bad colds.

These flowering wild shrubs and vines, despite their invasive natures, add to the visual and aromatic beauty of these southern climes, especially this time of the year when myriad shades of spring green decorate the landscape. The sights and aromas are complimented by the happy melodies of birdsong. It’s things like these, at least for me, that go a long way in helping to grind the sharp goad-points from the gripping realities of the issues generated in our modern times.

Political issues. Economic issues. Social issues. All the heated finger pointing and blame laying. Issues. There was a time when I thought all I had to do was cancel my subscriptions. But no matter how I work to distance myself from all the issues, the undesirable things, something of a handed down inheritance, keep piling up on my doorstep.

And now this thick, black, toxic ooze belching a mile down from the floor of the Gulf that has “experts” scrambling to figure out “after the fact” how to turn off the flow.

How long before they are successful in stopping the contaminating flow that exceeds 200,000 gallons a day? How long will it take to clean up the mess? What are the short and long term effects on the Gulf-Coast environment and economy?

The staggering reality of the Gulf spill is personally saddening. All the present efforts at combating and rectifying the problem seem so small and futile in comparison to the size of the problem.

No. I’m not a sun soaking beach goer. Our hermitage-home is inland a few miles from the sugar-white Gulf sands. But this catastrophic real-deal is in our own back yard and in our neighbor’s back yards; an uninvited, unwelcome visitor begging to insist the uncertainty of life in the tumultuous 21st Century.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Same God, Same Hymns

Dead.

630,000 family men, young men, and boys lost their lives in combat. The figure is much higher if you count the number that died from disease and complications from war wounds.

Countless homes and buildings were pilfered, razed, and burned leaving large populations of citizenry destitute and homeless.

The conflict didn’t happen afar off in jungles or deserts. No. It happened in our own front yards, in our fields, and on the streets of our towns and cities.

It staggers me to consider and think about it. There were quite a few issues involved. Once the ball started rolling it was impossible to stop. The emotional conflicts were as heated as the engagements on the battlefields.

Union and Confederate. US and CSA. In many cases it was brother against brother, cousin against cousin. Both sides speaking the same language. Both sides praying to the same God. Both sides singing the same hymns. Both sides believing their cause to be the right one to support and defending it to the point of violent and bloody death.

The historical scenario reminds me a lot of the heated conflicts of issues and opinions, political and otherwise, that embroil the hearts and minds of this modern day citizenry. It was hard to sit the fence during the 19th Century war that raged between the States. It’s no different now. Fence sitting is still a difficult proposition.

The spirit of that historical line, known as Mason-Dixon, is still a very real Line of Demarcation although it is not necessarily defined by flags, uniform colors, and emblems. The conflicts still rage as inescapable realities. Only now the sounds of rifle and cannon fire have been silenced, their resonance replaced with rhetoric and promises emanating from an even more powerful and growing centralized government.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Appreciation And Celebration Of Life

Fred flaps his wings. I know what he’s going to do next. His wing-flapping is always followed by a musical Bantam rooster-crow. Our neighbor’s rooster pipes in with his rooster-tune and they banter back and forth trying to outdo each other.

I’m not sure why roosters crow. But I enjoy listening to them and I’m glad they do. Birdsong of a myriad sort, and the sweet fragrance of our lemon tree blooming, punctuates the cool stillness. Laughing gulls, high overhead, contribute to the morning lauds.

An early Sunday morning stroll about our small Homestead Hermitage estate. The little three-quarter acre homestead has come a long way in the five and a half years that we’ve given to it. The more we give to it, the more it gives back. It’s an atmospheric relationship that lends itself to an appreciation and celebration of life.

Mornings are still quite cool for this late in the month. I don’t mind putting on an extra shirt first thing in the morning. It will be deep-south blistering hot soon enough and it will stay with us a long time. Garden planting was late but things are coming along nicely. The first buds have opened on the yellow climbing rose and the wild red rose in our memorial bed is showing some color.

A lot of things were late this spring. The frequent late winter heavy rains and bouts of cold blasts from the north kept the earth in its winter sleep longer than usual for this sub-tropical climate zone. In another week or so the beautiful colors of the wisteria, dogwood, and azaleas will be gone for another year. Ah. But other summer-blooming things will step up to fill in for them.

It’s gotten dry, bone dry since we started our spring garden planting. The gardens would look pitiful was it not for the irrigation they receive to slake their thirst. Our already knee-high corn patch is getting a good dowsing this morning, as will the fenced main garden, before the warming atmosphere begins creating the coastal breezes that make it difficult to efficiently lay down water where you want it to land. It’s not an expensive and elaborate irrigation system but it works well enough. I don’t mind dragging hoses.

We struggle against the elements and tend these gardens partly for the fun and emotional health of it. We also do it as a hold out against pesticide laden and G.M.O. food crops that we personally believe are not fit for human consumption. It requires some work done in a timely fashion and there are some financial expenses. The return, weighed in hundreds of pounds of food each year, greatly outweigh the monetary costs. It’s time to start putting in summer peas and okra.

I know he’s gone to a better place; a reality of being that makes me glad he’s no longer languishing and wasting away. Had my dad made it a few more months, he would have celebrated his ninety-first birthday today. In honor of the occasion we’re having a noon meal family get-together at the home place.

It’s one of those happy-sad occasions. I miss my dad. He did have a contrary stubbornness about him, a little character trait that I see a bit of in myself. The best we can do with it is to simply keep moving on, pledging to live our lives as fully and faithfully as we can. I think that’s what he would recommend.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Roaring Against The Tide

I believe in the democratic process. I also, in affirming this belief, have no doubt that the democratic process, in a profligate society vainly disposed to its own moral and ethical demise, will continue to reflect and impose its desires on a dwindling minority that labors to hold onto the hope that rests securely only in the healthy realm created in and fostered by righteous thinking and living.

It’s hard for me to think of these post-modern times without personally concluding that something of a cataclysmic era has fallen upon us. The restraints of former times seem to have largely passed from favor in the eyes of the public majority. Western society, once a bastion of morality has, at least in the limited opinion of this one tired simpleton, managed to successfully become a licentious free-for-all.

I didn’t ask for this perceived external environment. It is, however, the one that I find surrounding me, the one in which I must daily labor to work out and integrate the faith born and growing in my breast. It’s not an easy proposal. As Milt Grannum once said as the opening proposition in a sermon, perception makes a difference. The way we perceive things will have a definite effect on the way we go about living our lives.

What I perceive as a cataclysm in modernity motivates me. There are times when I find myself verbally and vocally roaring against the noise created by the post-modern tide. My own roaring involvement as a member of this post-modern larger society, though at times seemingly purposeful and necessary, most often has a way of generating its own prideful and distracting self-punishing afflictions.

Peace and contentment reside at the heart of Benedict’s model of monastic spirituality. The old Saint tells me to avoid situations that create strife and contention (RB Chapter 69). My own societal roaring creates a personal scene of interior strife and contention, sets me on edge, and robs me of the peace and contentment that grows best in solitude and simplicity.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Techno Concerns

It concerns me that people read what I write and post in this venue that is open to the public. Oblate Offerings didn’t begin that way. It began as a simple little reflective means to share personally and intimately with a dear friend that lives far away.

One concern that I have about this is that I have an international audience. No. It’s not large like some mega-site but it’s larger than some of the churches that I pastored during my Protestant pastoral career. Some are frequent readers. Others stop by infrequently. Some show up accidentally, others curiously. Many don’t come back. A few leave comments. Most don’t. It’s amazing what a good stat counter tells you.

Over these few years of blogging I’ve had only one person roast me on a spit. He did it with a succession of argumentative and accusing comments. His last comment was an apology for roasting me.

I’ll admit it. I’m human and there’s still that carnal part of me that is capable of being flattered. There was a day when I would have really fed on this and found a self-righteous way to justify my vanity, a character trait that I’ve worked hard at overcoming, yet one that is still very much alive and at work within me.

Another concern is one that rests in the realm of personal accountability, one of those “be not many masters” things that the Apostle James talks about in chapter three of the little biblical book that bears his name. I live with a healthy fear of one eventual but certain day finding myself indicted for leading any one astray in matters of faith and morals.

I did in fact, a few months ago, consider taking a long hiatus, aspire more to anonymity and smallness, work at satisfying another character trait and become much more of a hermit-type recluse, and leave off doing this reflective journaling in a public venue altogether. It’s still a consideration but it isn’t quite as strong as it was a few months ago. Is this Providence at work or my own vanity steering me?

I prefer to think that it is not the latter in control of my little vessel.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Arrested

It was already late in the morning but the breeze was still quite cool. I wore my comfortable old plaid sleeveless insulated vest as I headed out on the small lake. I had hopes of enticing a fish or two to attack a spinner bait, of one sort or another, that I repeatedly flipped toward the earthen dam and along the southern lakeshore.

The fish proved to be as uninterested as they had been the previous two days. Not a big deal. I was fishing for the fun of it. Just being out there was reward enough. We had plenty enough food in the camper, our little rolling cottage. Sure. There’s always something about that anticipated jerk on the rod when a sassy bass tries to demolish a lure. Fish on the line or not, it was alright.

A group of Boy Scouts, I counted twelve of them, were side by side on the fishing pier casting their lines. They were a well behaved group of boys around the campsite. Here, on the pier, their adult leaders were out of ear shot and they carried on some foolishness amongst themselves. Occasionally one of the older scouts had to remind someone to watch their language. I found that to be a little humorous. Why? I’m not sure. It just was.

My own fishing gradually took me far enough away from the pier that the sounds of the water lapping against the boat and the wind whistling in the pines pretty well drowned out the boy-noise coming from the pier. What I could hear from the pier was easy enough to ignore. I put my rod down and dug a Gideon Testament out of my inside vest pocket. With the water lapping the side and bottom of the aluminum jon-boat, the wind whistling in the pines, and the sounds of woodpeckers going about their hole-making in the surrounding forest, I read Psalm 19.

I read it quietly but aloud as a prayer. And, just like so many other times that I’ve read it, I couldn’t help but to wonder why. Why? With all of creation declaring the glory of God, why do so many fail to sense God’s closeness and care? I couldn’t help but to wonder why I can so often be so dense and unreceptive to God’s presence. I couldn’t help but to think how often the words of my mouth and meditations of my heart betray my profession of faith.

My thoughts arrested me. For a few minutes I simply sat there unable to think about fishing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Faith In The Face Of Futility

It doesn’t take a genius to see that what we are facing in the opening decade of the 21st Century is a moral crisis of major proportions, something being manifested in political and economic catastrophes. We shouldn’t be surprised. Nor should we forget that civilizations have gone modern before, only to collapse into heaps of ruin.

Is the demise of society as we now know it on the brink? I don’t know. It seems to me that it does make sense to be prepared for whatever may come down the pike.

Pardon me for thinking so simplistically but problems are never solved from the top down. Treating symptoms is not a remedy. The problems of these modern times are organic in nature. They have tenacious roots that continue growing wider and deeper. Disguising them in new dress won’t make them go away. Lopping them off won’t kill them. The roots must be laboriously dug out and discarded in a way that leaves them no potential of taking root and reestablishing themselves.

Personally, I think the moral, political, and economic problems facing post-modern society have grown so large and are so deeply entrenched that any little bit of hand digging any of us can do, even if we commit ourselves to full-time digging, are beyond excavation. It seems to have been well proven that cussing them into hell or preaching them into heaven, two extreme means exercised toward the post-modern moral dilemma, have been and will continue to be efforts in futility. I’ve got to do more with my life than spend it in futile exercise.

Faith fashions itself into a number of forms and I hardly think there is a soul on the planet that doesn’t exercise faith in one fashion or another. Granted, faith can be misguided and poorly invested. It is, nonetheless, a valuable gift that all souls are endowed with, at least in some measure. According to the ancient biblical writer, faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Faith is, as one old preacher entitled his sermon, “life’s great essential.”

I don’t know what the outcome of these cataclysms will be. I do know that there is a sure Grander Scheme, one that all of humankind’s preferences have never been able to derail.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Wisdom In Weariness

The marauding and noisy icterids have arrived like a dreaded army in full-force, gorging themselves at our feeders, depriving our better feathered friends of the diet that keeps them hanging close to Homestead Hermitage. They show up every spring about the time the robins begin their spring migration, flapping their way back toward the northern states to announce the coming of spring to folks sequestered by long winter weather.

I used to try chasing the unwanted birds away but all my efforts were efforts in futility. When the feeders run empty they will sit in the trees and squawk at me, scolding me because they can’t get an easy handout. I tried to keep feed out so the better birds wouldn’t do without at a time when nature’s supply train is pulling empty boxcars. But the cost efficiency fast became apparent. It costs a lot in bird seed to feed the droves of unwanted moochers that never get enough and always demand more.

Maybe I’m judging, placing a higher value on some feathers while discounting others. No. I am definitely being judgmental, counting the cost, weighing on a balance. It so happens that the few lifted by the grosser weight are the more valuable lot. And they suffer because of the greedy mass congregated on the other side of the scale, squawking and pushing their weight around as though their volume and noise is indicative of some privileged classification.

Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin. Handwriting on an ancient wall. The handwriting is indelibly scribed all over the post-modern wall. More often scoffed at when it is read. But mostly ignored and unread. Weighed in the balances and found wanting. Who wants to hear that in this age of hedonism, self-gratification, and rampant self-indulgence?

I keep a supply of bird seed on the porch and dole out a little now and then during the lulls between the droves that quickly hone in. It’s the least I can do for the gentle little ones that accompany us and bless us with their pretty songs.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Loosening And Limbering The Lees

If the objective of Lent is to cultivate a deeper awareness and appreciation of the grace of God, epitomized in the marvelous Salvivic Act on Calvary, then I’m having a pretty successful Lent.

If the objective of Lent is merely to mechanically sacrifice and do without in a prescribed or calculated manner, whatever aspect or aspects that particular doing without happens to involve, then I can only conclude that I’ve blown the liturgical season altogether this time around.

I recognize and affirm the need that we have as human creatures to shake things up a little. We so easily settle into the humdrum of day to day, week to week, month to month, and year to year living. We get into our comfortable and preferential ruts. It’s easy to “settle on our lees” as Zephaniah talks about in 1:12 of the prophetic book that bears his name.

Then some bad stretches of life-road come along, even successions of bad stretches of life-road.

We don’t plan for them, can’t plan for them. Life happens and confronts us and we don’t, for all our self-confident effort and well rehearsed philosophies and theologies, have much control over what life does or does not do. The very nature of living life in a very real world imposes refining forces on us that move us into a type of the continuous Lent that our Patron talks about in RB 49. We don’t have to look for or select ways or means that test or try us.

Life quite often has a way of doing a really good job of selecting our trials for us. And all we can do is go with the flow, bash against the boulders, take getting dunked in the whirlpools, and ride the rapids in hope of calmer water. I’ve been wet and banged around for a while now. Is that a stretch of still water that I see?

It’s easy to fight against the bruising turbulent forces of life, to wish them away. They, after all, seem to extract so much from us. Maybe, just maybe, they are what we need to loosen and limber our lees from their settled and concretized positions, the wetting and kneading agents used by the Skillful Potter in an effort to fashion us more in his making.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Exspectans Exspectavi

I waited patiently for the Lord,
and he inclined unto me,
and heard my calling.

He brought me also out of the horrible pit,
out of the mire and clay,
and set my feet upon solid rock,
and ordered my goings.

He hath put a new song in my mouth,
even a thanksgiving unto our God.


Psalm 40:1-2 KJV

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bearings

Somewhere along the way I realized how lost I was, how futile my efforts to change people, how inept all my outward actions directed at changing the world. I realized how well-intentioned others had deceived and used me, how I had deceived my own self, how skilled I had become at criticizing and ostracizing those that failed to share my own well groomed and culture-warped narrow opinions.

I’ve changed a lot over the past decade of searching my soul, diving into the depths of my interior regions, seeking and searching for the Christ who is not concerned about time or culture or my personal egotistical preferences.

It’s not been easy. It has been relationally expensive, costing me quite a number of what I thought were friendships, a hard price to pay for simply walking an unexpected but divinely ordained path. Nor is the search anywhere near complete. Though an overwhelming peace permeates my soul, every wakening day draws me to the conclusion that my spiritual journey is far from complete.

I think we are all pretty badly bent. The world’s conglomerations of people-folk remind me of buckets full of rusty bent nails eroding away by the effects of the atmospheric conditions, no longer able to recognize the growing rust devouring them. Only it’s not oxygen and water that are the destructive culprits.

It’s the preferential forces of social and economic time unmercifully hammering and bending and pulling and discarding people. This alone, I think, reinforces the imperative, the need and necessity, to rest one’s soul’s eternal welfare upon the truths contained in the ancient and unchanging creedal statements that define the Christian faith, and in those models that most aptly characterize these truths.

Destruction will come to an eventual and perpetual end. So intimates the Psalmist. But how many will be consumed before it does?

Friday, February 26, 2010

Soul Healing Solitude

The first signs of spring are beginning to make their appearance along this latitude.

Our blueberry plants are loaded with blossoms about to bloom. One lonely daffodil is offering its yellow smile to us. Some of the hardwoods and undergrowth are beginning to pink up in the woods. Patches of clover are coming alive and an occasional dandelion is sending up its little sphere of yellow sunshine. It’s time to pull out the tiller and prepare the garden earth to receive the little seeds that will become food on our table.

It’s good to see these things, especially after this past winter season.

It’s been a long cold winter for us, its climatological conditions exacerbated by the extent of the difficult emotional things that pummeled us these past several months.

There is a sense of irony to it all.

The hard things that have a way of freezing us in place, hardening and tempering us to the harsh realities of life, will, if we allow them their course, soften and make more pliable our deeper sensitivities, always directing closer to Center and Source the soul invested in pilgrimage.

I find it interesting how these things have a way of driving me deeper into simplicity – simplicity of life, simplicity of faith – where the smallest of things are the greatest of things. These things have a way of increasing my need and desire for soul healing solitude, that realm of interior and natural geography that is so easily trespassed and trodden upon by the ebb and flow of life in a modern society devoid of an understanding or appreciation of this important matter.

Everything is white with frost again this morning.

Have mercy upon me, O LORD, for I am weak: O LORD, heal me, for my bones are vexed. Psalm VI.2

Monday, February 22, 2010

Revisiting Thoreau

I’m reading Walden again. I’ve read it before but that was decades ago as part of the required reading in college. The reading was sandwiched into a lot of other required reading during that semester. I didn’t, needless to say, get much out of it at the time other than the idea that one day I’d revisit Thoreau.

More than three decades have passed since I was first introduced to Thoreau and this time I’m taking Walden in more of a leisurely fashion. Studying on it. Reflecting on it. Taking it in little doses. Letting it simmer and distill.

I no longer have to cram until my brain hurts solely for the sake of making passing grades. That’s a course in living that I have no desire to repeat.

I find it a little funny, in a strange sort of way, how a book like Walden was made part of a life-directing program that was so at odds with the realities communicated by Thoreau. The lives of the program proliferators and professors in no way resembled the life represented in the book.

Revisiting Walden, at this particular intersection in life, may be more providential than accidental. Thoreau reminds me a lot of my own self. Here’s someone looking at the world and saying “this is really messed up”, someone grappling with the terms of the world’s gluttonous frenzy and wanting no part of the terms, someone totally discontent with having his life micro-managed by all the systems and institutions insisting on their rights to set and govern all the details and intricacies of life.

In this present age, like in that earlier age, there is no shortage of people content to simply accept the status quo of the terms and become slaves of systems that are never satisfied with the daily output of bricks. Personally, if mixing straw in mud is all there is to life, living life has then become a caricature of something that it wasn’t meant to be. It has lost and completely forgotten its center.

Unpaved Avenues

When I look at the woods
I see an elaborately designed invitation
inviting me to enter a challenging yet perfectly natural world
filled with unpaved healing avenues
where every breath and sight becomes a prayer.

A slowly but constantly changing world,
one resounding with the music of natural sounds, brimming over with tonic for my weary soul,
governed not by bureaucrats and industrial magnates but by the natural seasons that make up the course of time.

It can be a hard place for the unprepared,
for the uninitiated,
a place that requires its own special tool chest,
its own manual of principles and guidelines,
demanding its own set of skills.

These possessions
make for something akin to an unhurried love affair.
Their lack is bound to create
a mishap that you avow never to return to.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Shucking Oysters

These past few months have been one mean emotional ride. A succession of events. A series of up close hard things. Exacting. Toll taking. Unavoidable. Mind and heart numbing.

Life is real. Life can be hard. Life can be real hard when it’s made of the stuff that reduces you down to the bare essence of who you are. Maybe that’s the hidden pearl inside the oyster of life. You have to shuck the oyster to find the pearl. Sometimes things get turned upside down and the oyster shucks you.

In all the shucking I’m given to wonder more why I do the things I do. It makes me wonder about the practical value of all the goods and commodities that form the outward appearances of life, points and produce of pride – the things most people use as indications of success in a world that is, as Mark Twain said, a multiplication of unnecessary necessities.

When it comes right down to it, it’s all a bunch of shiny butt fodder that people sell their souls to accumulate for the sake of appearances. Earth awaits its opportunity to swallow us all.

What of any real value will we leave behind when the earth’s mouth is opened and we are laid at the bottom of a hole filled with cold dirt? In the cold hole there is no distinction between rich or poor, color of skin pigment or life creed. The hole is unconcerned about what we dined upon as our finest table fare or the magnitude of our personal holdings.

The little birds come to our feeders. Sometimes they come in small droves; sparrows, finches, cardinals, wrens, and a host of others. Watching the birds at our feeders is one of our simple joys. It’s something we are given to and take pleasure in. It’s hard to find a day when the atmosphere around us isn’t filled with birdsong.

In my present state of mind it causes me to wonder if we are really doing them a favor by feeding them; tempting them, holding them close just to satisfy some elusive sense of need within ourselves.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Fingerprints

It's hard to content myself in a world of same looking houses separated by asphalt streets and concrete sidewalks.

Look at the trees.

Ponder the birds.

Listen to the wind whistling in the trees and the yips and howls of the coyotes as daylight wanes.

Notice the change - how the day sounds fade to silence, how a marvelous quiet pervades the moments just before the night critters begin filling the woods with their songs.

It's here that it's easy to believe that "God is in his heaven and all is right with the world." At least in this part of the world, one touched by human hands but not recreated in a way that erases God's fingerprints.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Joe's Gone On

Joe Kralik, my dad, breathed his last breath Monday night around 7:00.
Had he made it until April he would have turned 91.
He was a good man. No. He wasn't perfect. He had plenty of contrariness in him. But he was a good man. Fathered five children. Three sons. Two daughters.
We put his body in the ground tomorrow afternoon. His soul has gone to reside in heaven.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Still Breathing

It's been quite a long time since my last post. No. I did not expire. The computer breathed its last. It took a while to replace it.

I've honestly enjoyed the hiatus. It gave me time to work on other things, time to think on other things, time to evaluate. These three, like 1 Cor. 10:13 are never complete. Maybe it's time to travel a different road, visit some new vistas. Maybe crawl into a hermit hole. I'll make that decision over the course of the next month.

Pax,

David