Wednesday 22 June 2011

So among the things I can count as “not my gifts,” crocheting is officially included. Wow, not my style (as my brothers say). Yet, there seem to be some very talented unforeseen crochet artists among my fellow OFM friars. One of these is my classmate Steve who seems to be a natural and who mentioned this evening that he felt particularly drawn to this activity because he finds it a contemplative act. I can see how it could be for some; the repetition and pattern allows a person to be physically engaged in an activity, while freeing up the mind and heart to focus on something else. The products of his as well as Martín’s, a friar from St. Barbara Province (West Coast), work have been spectacular. Martín has made some very nice hats already, incredible given that he too only started this practice this morning.

In addition to our yarn-related meditative exercise (at which I totaled failed, although I tried), we had a rather deep and lengthy discussion about faith, imagination and male spirituality (this is a month-long retreat for Franciscan friars – so all men). It was a very good discussion. The sharing, prompted by an article by Kathleen Norris that we all read last evening, gave me the impression that we were all serious about our faith and trusted each other enough to be honest about where we stood at that moment.

On that note, I should say that this first week has been quite a blessing. We have a rather diverse group of men on retreat, each of whom is an excellent example of someone trying to live after the example of St. Francis in the best way he can. We’ve had some very, very powerful conversations about the Order and our respective provinces, about our hopes and expectations for the future, about where we see the Church today and in the future. We’ve also had some tremendously hilarious moments. The levity amid serious spiritual interaction makes for an enriching experience. Jerry Bleem, the friar-artist leading this week’s reflection, has been particularly wonderful in both of these regards. A very serious man, talented artist and committed friar, he also knows how to laugh and enjoy the company of his brothers. For all of that, I am grateful.

Laughter really makes me relax, enjoy myself and others, as well as appreciate the variety of life found in a retreat as lengthy as this one is. There are few things that I enjoy more than laughing with friends, and I’m happy to say that I feel as though I am forming some lifelong friendships among my brother friars from around the country here.

This afternoon we were privileged to have something of a private tour of the California Missions Archives. Wow, how amazing it is to have such a close encounter with centuries-old history. Most people, apart from some occasional researchers, never get the opportunity to see, hear about and even touch (with the necessary archival precautions, of course) such remnants of Church, Mexican and American history. I encountered Juniper Serra’s stole, hand-written pages and other items today. I don’t know many people who can share that experience, not even the friars I know who are on the board of directors of the Academy of American Franciscan History.

This retreat continues to be a blessing and I am grateful for the gift of this time. Thanks, as always, for your continued prayers and support. And, by the way, if you haven’t yet, be sure to check out my latest publication – an essay in the new book titled, Franciscan Voices on 9/11, now available for the Amazon Kindle.


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