Room at the table...

Last night we spoke about street photography - the challenge of ethics and aesthetics - all in search of a picture "that tells a story." Having just been thinking about this re: music - where does it touch me, where does it take me, are these places of value or despair and why - I wasn't surprised that similar questions were a part of Dianne's current artistic discernment. We often discover that we're hovering around the same questions and concerns albeit from different disciplines and many times different starting places.

Right now we're reading aloud a book we selected for the first part of this trip in lieu of turning on the TV: Travels with Epicurus by Daniel Klien.  It is an accessible, but penetrating philosophical essay about what makes for a fulfilling life - especially in our later years. Klien is an author with a background in Western philosophy. He is best known for his work with Thomas Cathcart. Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar is arguably his mot popular contribution to the quest for value and integrity in popular culture.

Like me, Klein lives in Western Massachusetts. He, too has reached an age where it is clear that  whatever lays ahead is much shorter than what exists behind. So, how we embrace these days as a gift AND fill each day with value is more than an academic challenge. In a recent essay, Klein put it like this:

I had a lovely day today: slept late, played with my new puppy, picked some late-autumn brussels sprouts from the garden, drove an old friend to the repair shop to pick up his car, and read an essay about the relationship of imagination to belief by one of my favorite American philosophers, William James. After dinner, I took a couple of puffs of marijuana, lay down on the couch, and watched an old movie on Neflix. In short, I accomplished nothing of note today. But that was pretty much the point: for me, setting goals to achieve and striving to attain them gets in the way of having a truly gratifying day. And in the end, having truly gratifying days is all I want from life. It’s a choice I have made at this point in my life. In fact, it’s a choice I probably should have made much earlier.

I know that as we have entered this sabbatical I have been realizing how l
ittle I care about being engaged in political concerns as they are currently defined in the US. Not that I am going to become a cranky, old isolationist because I've also figured out I'm not yet ready for retirement. But the way I have been engaged in the world  for the past 35 years mostly no longer works - and it is time for a change. Specifically, I sense more and more that I really want to spend the next few years: 1) nurturing my musical interests in pursuit of peace-making; 2) caring for those I love with a deeper attention to their needs and time tables; and 3) sharing my skills and energy with those in the church (and beyond) who want to nourish compassion and trust. It is time for me to live more fully as an artist, a grandfather and a friar. 

NOTE: This means that I am sensing a very different understanding of my calling than when
was first ordained. In this shift, each of the stated words -artist/vowed loved one/friar - articulates part of this different calling. When I was ordained 34 years ago, it was to be as preacher and teacher of a settled faith community. Sadly, in my tradition, we omitted the third part of the traditional pastoral office - healer - for a variety of reasons:  we Reformed clergy don't really believe in the care of the soul, we think that is the work of physicians, who know? At any rate, I discerned early on that this missing element was a gross omission and began work in what has been called spiritual friendship and/or spiritual direction. The care of the souls of those in our church is crucial to the well-being of our ministries. As Fr. Richard Rohr makes clear: Jesus spent most of his time healing people and then explaining to others why this healing matered to God. I believe it still does.

As time passed, I was able to develop the role of administrator into a pastoral office, too. No longer were budgets, personnel matters and the physical plant things left to the business people in my ministry. Rather, what we prioritized, how we treated our staff and whether or not our buildings promoted radical hospitality all became a sign of the spiritual health of the parish. This, too, was a change from my ordination vows in a broad and practical way. In time, I realized that my gifts and skills as an artist needed to be used in worship and ministries of peace and justice, so this expanded my ordination vows even more. No longer was my ministry about preaching and teaching and administering the sacraments. It was now about the care of the congregation's souls, the integrity of our administration and the  use of the creative arts. In this I became preacher, teacher, spiritual guide, administrator and artist-in-residence.

Now, as I discern yet another shift I believe it is time to let go of some of the other duties and focus on: artist - grandfather - and friar.  As "friar" the calling is to a ministry beyond a monastery. It is to the wider community. It is still a vowed life of chastity, poverty (relatively speaking) and obedience (to the wider church), but not restricted physically or geographically. As a grandfather - to my family and my congregation - I want to share compassion with them and not worry more about the state of budgets than the care of souls. I want to be present when I am needed most. I want to have the energy to go to the hospital at all hours, I want to visit people in their homes. And I want to spend time in conversation and prayer rather than meetings, meetings and more meetings. And, as artist, well... that is a whole other subject.

You see, I have a vision that is partially informed by Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer's
work of hosting small concerts mixed with conversations informed by the insights in Healing the Heart of Democracy. (learn more here: This yearning also embraces some of what Palmer teaches in the "living room conversations" movement. (check it out: part of it has grown out of my 15 years of crafting emotionally, spiritually and ethically engaging liturgies built upon jazz, contemporary music, poetry, art, prayer and silence. Daniel Klein's paraphrase of Epicurus says something powerful to me about how I might be in a culture addicted to busyness and obsessed with status as I prepare for my 63rd birthday:

Before you eat or drink anything, carefully consider with whom you eat or drink rather than what you eat or drink, because eating without a friend is the life of the lion or the wolf.

Today we hiked to the top of Mont Royal with Lucie. She did great - and now she's flaked-out on the floor. As often happens when we hike, we got lost and had to hike back up part of the mountain after hiking down on the wrong side. Thank God for GPS and IPhones! We all napped vigorously when we finally got home. Tomorrow we'll wander St. Laurent's street fair dedicated to street artists. We're taking each day as it comes with precious few real plans except to live it fully and with satisfaction. I no longer have any interest in the life of a lion or a wolf. I'd much rather feast in the spirit of Jesus with those committed to compassion.  And now I'm going to pour some red wine and cook dinner.


Popular Posts