23 June 2011

Quite a bit happened today. We began the day as we normally do while on this interprovincial retreat, with breakfast and morning prayer. Prayer is followed by our morning session, which this week focuses on art and spirituality (you know that by now). Today’s art exercise was focused on calligraphy as meditative practice. Not unlike crocheting, calligraphy is not a helpful meditative practice for me. I found it very challenging, and although I gave it a three-hour-long try, I have to say that it is also not for me. That said, toward the end of the morning I found myself really enjoying the attempt, although I recognize that this is not a gift that God has given me. It is, however, a gift for some others in the group, including Damian Park, OFM, a Korean friar who I have lived with in Washington, DC, and with whom I will live this upcoming year after I move back to DC. He is very talented in terms of calligraphy and it was really neat to see his work.

I continue to be amazed at the artistic talent of someone like Jerry Bleem, OFM, who has been leading us in this experience. He makes art seem easy. His ability to quickly draw out a beautiful calligraphic piece is astounding and his three quickly made paintings, using nothing but water-based temperas and spoons, were beautiful. It made what the rest of us painted look like kindergarten projects.

Tomorrow (Friday) we take a field trip to the Getty Museum and the Cathedral in Los Angeles. This is something that I can really appreciate. While I am not very good at creating art, I do enjoy experiencing it. It occurred to me earlier in the week that whenever I travel to a new city and have some time to explore I almost inevitably migrate toward an art museum. Even in cities that I visit often I have frequented the major museums several times: New York, Chicago, London, Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, DC, Los Angeles, Rome – I have visited the art museums in each. Even Utica, NY, my hometown, has a rather impressive art institute (a branch of Pratt) and museum, the Munson-Williams-Proctor Art Institute. Well worth checking out!

One of the other things we did today was take a short trip – about one block away – to the Poor Clare Convent to visit our Franciscan Sisters in cloistered religious life. Unlike other Poor Clare communities that I have visited, some I have known quite well, these sisters were Collettines, meaning the follow a stricter way of life or interpretation of the Rule of St. Clare. Whereas, as a Friar, I have been inside the cloisters of other Poor Clare communities, the small group of friars that visited the Sisters sat on one side of a large metal grate while the Sisters sat on the other. It felt almost like visiting a prison, but the conversation was nice nonetheless.

Just in case you don’t know this already: Poor Clare Nuns are by far the most holy people on earth! These Sisters were no exception, very serene and joyful at the same time. Before we left we received the blessing of St. Clare from the Sisters – truly an honor and grace. That is one thing I love about being a friar and visiting the Clares, unlike other situations where within the Church women are marginalized, the Abbess and Sisters bestowed the blessing on us, a group of male religious including priests, and not the other way around. There is something very life-giving about that.

We, rather spontaneously, decided to move our Mass location from the old and much-too-large chapel to a space where we could be closer and a piano was located. With what little sheet music we could scrape up, I played the piano and Damian played the flute for Mass – what a difference that makes (at least for us, I hope the rest of the group liked it).

Celebrating the Vigil Mass for the Solemnity of John the Baptist, we had a shared homily during which time I talked a little about how Luke’s Gospel is by far my favorite and how one of the reasons is the presence and role of the Holy Spirit throughout the text(s) – Can’t forget Acts! While the Spirit is so often neglected elsewhere, the first chapter of Luke reminds us rather clearly of God’s intimate presence in creation in important ways. This is the case in the revelation to Zechariah that John would be born.

Photo: Poor Clares of Santa Barbara

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