Monday, May 19, 2008

People of God and Their Friends

Emotions roll deep, rippling in joy, even awe, when a good man or a good woman intersects my daily life of books and a computer, thoughts and impenetrable issues so many friends demand be resolved, and I know that there is a God with the people of God. The other emotions, the terrible defeating ones, roil and fester my reaction, as angry, almost as cruel in kind, as those of the despots, who fill me with fear and disgust, be they potentates of state or hierarchs of church.

Feebly, I try to justify my frenzied retort, with the guise of standing to speak truth to power, and my emotional rants rail at those wielding power. No impression is made. They are so far away and they yell, "Dissident." "Terrorist." "Appeaser." Little, if any heed is given to what I say or do or write. Their scorn and force are withering. And yet, every now and then, a good woman or a good man comes into my life, not in a superior way to help me out of the pits, but with decency and kindness and the humility of wanting to be.

There were so many incidents like that in the last ten days, that I have to write this.

On a visit to Taos, NM, Jean and I were amazed by the artists sprucing up galleries, washing windows with squeegees, so pleased to stop and talk with us two, despite the approaching hour of opening their doors to the throngs. One, Ed Sandoval, kept us for an hour, alone in his brilliant studio, while wrapping a $35 print we just had to buy. I asked him how he intended to wrap the large painting just finished.

Ed replied, "The fellow who commissioned it is sending his Lear jet here next week, to fly the painting and me to Florida. He wants me at the unveiling."

Ed spent most of the hour talking with Jean about her painting. And I sat and watched the two of them, strangers when we walked in off the dirt parking lot outside, and now friends, as close together as their heads and hands and his paintings standing easily against the walls of the room. They were interested in each other and in their common bond.

Back home here a few days later, we were invited to a farewell dinner before we cross the country again in a going home to New Hampshire. Clare, a close friend of Jean, when we first lived here ten years ago, promised that Clyde would be there too. In the late 1990s, we were attracted to both of them, and particularly fascinated with Clyde, a tall, handsome retired professor, with a prestigious academic career, and a retirement made possible by the royalties from the text books he had written, so that others could teach. When we left Colorado then, Clyde enthralled us at another farewell dinner, with his first try at walking the 500 miles of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, enlivened with the stories of the many people he had met along the way.

So, I asked where he had been walking since then. His answer covered most of eastern Europe, China, Burma, Australia, on foot, with just a backpack, and alone. He spoke of the people he stayed with, and with my persistent questions – "How do you do it, Clyde?" -- he answered simply, "It's the people. Only way to see a country is to walk with its people."

Clare told us of the help he has given quietly over the years: building houses for poor couples in Thailand, putting youngsters through college in Sri Lanka, giving, giving, giving time and interest and money, followed up with letters and more gifts and letters, long after he left their country. His travels had to be interrupted with serious illnesses of hip replacements, cancer, and long rehab to regain his strength to follow his heart. Last year, with cancer in remission, he had walked El Camino a second time.

"I missed my people," was his simple explanation.

After I praised him for his charity, Clyde smiled that humble wistful one of his, cocked his head, said, "I have money from my books, don't need much to walk around the world, might as well let it do some good."

I wondered whether he was linked to some charity, and he said, "No. I walk alone. The people I meet are poor. And they're good people."

My curiousity on where he was going next was resolved in his telling us it would be in a Buddhist monastery near the Tibetan border. He'd bumped into a monk a year or so ago and helped him out with food and money for transportation back to that monastery. The monk happened to be the Abbot. He invited Clyde to come and stay for a few months next fall, "It's my turn, now." Good dinner. Good people.

Yesterday, Jean and I drove to Estes Park 20 miles away. We live in the Front Range, on the western edge of the High Plains, up against the foothills of the Rockies. Estes Park is a small, touristy town, an entrance into Rocky Mountain National Park. Elk walk the streets, but leave them that particular weekend to the thousands of people who come for the Jazz Festival and to walk the Art Walk. Tired after an hour of plodding along, smiling and gawking, I sat down on a bench in the warming sun, thrilled to be so near the 14-ers, our mountains at 14,000 feet, ogling the people swarming the sidewalks on both sides of the main street, leaning over to pat the occasional dog who thought I had a treat.

Jean went off to tour the galleries and meet some artists, as she had in Taos. I was wearing my Oregon football cap, with the big green "O" leaping off the white background and had on a green and yellow Oregon jersey. A couple stopped, drawn by the "Os", opening the conversation with "Go, Ducks." Later another couple joined us, to share their connection with the school. There I sat, charmed by strangers, who had found a friend so far from home. We chatted. They were thrilled that a son of ours was coaching there, and I was thrilled that they were from Eugene, OR, followed the team and roared in tune and cadence with the awesome decibels of 60,000 fans in Autzen Stadium.

There we were, so far from that stadium, drawn by the colors and a letter on a shirt and a hat, in a little town in the Rockies, an old man from NH and Maine buzzing awy with one couple from Oregon, the other from Denver. It was a warming half hour on a warming day, for people normally thousands of miles apart. Each of us made the other's day. As they left to walk on, Jean came back, towing a woman artist with whom she had spent her half hour talking about oils. The sharing went on.

We drove home on Rt. 36, by Longs Peak, which is normally framed by this studio's windows where I write now, realizing that next month the elevation will be about ten feet at the bottom of the Merrimac Valley, looking up at the gentle hill we New Hampshiremen call Mount Uncanoonuk. Well, Mt. Washington, our famous one, a 6-er, is up the Interstate about an hour and a half away.

Sunday, we watched as the priest entered the friendly Lutheran Church, which allows us to share space for our fledgling Ecumenical Catholic Community, the Light of Christ Church, and I goggled.

"She's a woman," I whispered. "She's beautiful, Jean."

Her homily was on St. Augustine's insight about the Trinity, when taught by the little boy with the pail at the beach, busily pouring "the ocean back into the hole." After cautioning the child that his task was impossible, Augustine was struck with the realization that it was also impossible to try to pour Infinity into finite minds. Father Kae, and I quickly corrected myself, Mother Kae was the priest missing from our churches for thousands of years. I had to speak with her after Mass to let her know how miraculous and dizzingly serene it was to see a woman resume the role she had in the infant Church.

Her smile widened with my, "I've read about women priests, digested the reasons pro and con, talked about it, hoped for equality in ministry from our celibate males and knew it was hopeless. You are the first woman priest I've ever seen live. It is so different and yet so right." I blurted out in the tingling emotions of the moment, "May I have your blessing?"

With a simple, unadorned "Yes," she put one hand on my head. It was firm, strong. Her arm around my shoulder was loving. It belonged there. I was blessed. There were tears in my eyes, for I was in a miracle, the same one that had made the early Church possible. Women belonged. We had longed for them for such a long time.

On Monday, the mail brought Weston Jesuit's last issue of Light&Life, before closes its doors in Harvard Square after twenty years and becomes part of the Boston College community. The articles and pictures were from out of my own youth, the years which allowed me to say, "Been there. Done that." But what caught my eye were those little one paragraph notices telling what some alumni had been doing in ministry lately. In this final issue, the editor ran story after story of men and women, equally dedicated to service for others. Three full pages. 48 names. Goodness going all over the world, out of the place I had been for studies over 50 years ago. I thought of classmates from way back then and those who followed after, their reach across the world, the hundreds of men, and now women, too, going forth. I thought of people, rather than dogma, doctrine, discipline and all of that endless debate, argument, apologetics.

Some names were familiar, as old classmates. The current president's family spent each summer in their cottage near our home in Pine Point, ME. Our son had dated his niece. Weston's former president, also a friend, had resigned, a serious illness making it impossible for him to share any longer, after he had masterminded the purchase of Cardinal Law's estate and moved Weston College away from Harvard, closer to B. C. The magazine said that one of his friends had donated $400,000, to be matched by other friends, in setting up "The Manning Fund" for scholarships and eventually a chair in Theology. Weston Jesuit is alive and well and is coming home.

Finally, later on Monday, email brought a fitting conclusion to my reveries of people and events over the recent past. It had a notice from the Provincial of the California Province to answer the Call of Christ. People were stirring in the Church. Hostilities were being placed to one side. Church needs to be a church, an assembly, a gathering, not a boot camp. People and news items and email notices allowed emotions, joyous ones, to pour out in floods from way down deep within. And I saw the people who had been crossing my path for longer than half a century, doing good to others, quietly, without publicity, as a matter of daily fact.

To me, that is Church. People in love with people are drowning out the presidents and the bishops, who speak in stridence, harsh, grating, creaking, loud, shrill, threatening, condemning. A Call is going out. Let the institution keep the qualifier "Roman." Our Church in this 21st century needs no such limitation. It is simply "Catholic." Let us be Church. We, the people of God.

It is good to be here. With Ed and Clyde and Clare. Nice to talk with those Oregonians drawn by an "O", a green one. Wonderful to see and hear Mother Kae, a priest at LOC, whose blessing is one of love, the kind no celibate can give, no matter how close a friend out of my past. The news is beckoning, from Weston Jesuit and the California Province and their people, who have gone forth, quietly, steadily making their immense impact over this country and this world.

All of them lift me up, with my little pail on the beach and a great big ocean in front of me. With friends like them, I need not rise to speak truth to power. Just be myself with our people, able and ready and willing to listen for and answer a Call.


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