Thursday, July 31, 2008


Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.
1 John 4

The other day I preached this homily at the hermitage and a couple of folks asked for it, so here it is a couple days late. In the Roman calendar the feast is listed only as the feast of Martha, but the Benedictine order celebrates it as the feast of her siblings as well, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. Our Camaldolese calendar (in Italian) lists them as ospite del Signore. It’s an interesting word in Italian, ospite. In common language it is usually translated as “guest,” but in the dictionary its first meaning is “host.” How can someone be a guest and a host at the same time? Maybe that’s what happens in the closest of friendship, the line disappears. And somehow that is God at every moment of prayer, both our guest and our host. We make room for Spirit in our midst and in our lives, and yet it is God who provides the feast.

This is a fascinating family, Martha, Mary and Lazarus. And the most beautiful part about them is that in looking at them I get the feeling we are catching a glimpse of Jesus’ own private life, his intimate relationships. I’d like to think that Jesus had a place he could go, where he was just among friends, some people who knew what kind of foods he liked and what kind of sandals he wore. Maybe their house was that one place where he could go where he didn’t have to be on stage, where he didn’t have to be rabbi, or good teacher, or Lord. He was just “our friend Jesus.”

I also like to think of Martha, Mary and Lazarus, these three people who loved Jesus, as representing three different aspects of love. (Mind you, I’m one of the those people who think it’s all one love anyway, as Fr Bede taught, it’s all eros leading to agape, but still there are different aspects of it that we can focus on.) Mary is the easiest to understand. Though she is often conflated with the figures of Mary Magdalene and the woman caught in adultery, there is no proof of that. But there is something to the similarity of the energy of their relationships with Jesus. I think we could think of her being in love with Jesus––that doesn’t diminish Jesus’ divinity in any way––even as they say one falls in love with one’s guru. Mary is at least the symbol of the one always leading with the heart: there are two different stories of her anointing Jesus, once with her hair, which is a shockingly intimate gesture.

And then there is Martha, another aspect of this love. If Mary is bhakti, the yoga of devotion, Martha is karma yoga, the yoga of work. Martha is usually for us the symbol of the harried, overworked one, maybe a “two” on the Enneagram, scurrying around the kitchen while Mary sat gazing lovingly into the eyes of Jesus. Traditionally she has come to symbolize the active life as opposed to the contemplative life. But Meister Eckhart didn’t think that was quite fair. He suggested that she was perhaps the one closest to spiritual maturity, because she didn’t need the physical proximity to Jesus any more. She could get about the work that had to be done and retain the closeness to Jesus with her, like Brother Laurence of the Resurrection finding God amid the pots and pans as much as in his cell or at liturgy––maybe Martha could carry the cell in her heart. Martha is immediately up making Jesus’ favorite foods. Maybe she simply didn’t understand why Mary needed that proximity to Jesus, and it is then that Jesus tells her to let it go. Mary needs this for now. Soon enough Mary is going to need to hear the same words that the Magdalene heard: “Do not cling to me.”

And then there is Lazarus. We don’t know that much about him except that they say to Jesus, “The man you love is ill,” and, after Lazarus dies they say, “See how much he loved him!” words that are reserved only for Lazarus and the apostle John, the other one “whom Jesus loved.” And I have to think that it is that love that they shared that Jesus uses to raise Lazarus from the grave. In Jesus, as Dionysius says about God’s own self, the love–energy is outgoing, doing miraculous unheard of unfathomable surprising things. It can write symphonies, build a world of justice and peace, rip the doors off of smashed up cars when your baby is trapped inside, or raise your friend from the dead.

I remember once that someone asked the great Russian novelist Dovsteosky concerning his novel The Brothers Karamazov which of three brothers he was. And he answered, “All three.” So also, all three of those holy energies are inside of us. My mind drifted hazily once again to the three-fold good of our Camaldolese charism: solitude, community and the third unnamable special one, and I wonder if these three couldn’t also be symbols of those energies and symbols of the love that we are trying to incarnate in our lives: Mary, the symbol of the one on one intimacy with the Lord in solitude, in our obviously contemplative times; Martha, the symbol of community, and our availability and readiness to serve; and Lazarus, the absolute wonder, the prodigal surprise of grace, the power that flows through us and takes us where we not thought it was possible to go and saves us even from the jaws of the netherworld, something we could not and maybe would not do of our own accord.

So by the example and intercession of these guests and hosts, these friends of Jesus, and by our participation in this celebration where we are both hosts and guests, let’s pray that we too may find this intimacy with the Beloved in silence and solitude; let’s pray that we be ready to carry the presence of the Lord in all of our work and service; and that we also be ready for the surprise, the wild card of grace, to be ready for the most amazing things to happen to us, in us, through us by the energy of the Spirit of resurrection and life, if only we are willing to be hosts and guests, friends of Jesus, friends of God.

the more

The good is one thing, the pleasant is another.
Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to us.
The calm soul examines them well and discriminates.
It goes well with those who, of the two, takes the good;
But those who choose the pleasant miss the end.
Katha Upanishad (I.ii.I)
Today we celebrated the feast of St Ignatius of Loyola. The thing I kept thinking about was one of Ignatius’ favorite phrases that became a sort of motto for the Jesuit order that he founded, the Latin phrase, Ad Majoreum Dei Gloriam which means “for the greater glory of God.” This short little phrase was very influential during the early years of the Jesuits and is placed on the seal of most Jesuit schools and institutions. Another term that is closely associated with it and appears to be taken from Ad majorem Dei gloriam is the Latin word magis. It is usually translated as “the more.” What is “the more”? One Jesuit described it this way: the more is “the search for the most universal good. It’s not just doing more but doing something deeper, more widely, something beyond, something with added depth and dimension.” The roots of all this are ascribed to St. Ignatius himself who was always trying to do more for God. Apparently during his life he would always encourage people around him by asking them: “What have I done for God? What am I doing for God?” and “What more can I do for God?”

I’ve had a number of Jesuit directors along the way, so I am quite aware of this theme. The Jesuits, of course, given the foundation of the Spiritual Exercises, are brilliant with discernment. The important point is that once we have sorted out the bad from the good, once we have rid ourselves of unhealthy passions and attachments (if we ever do), there is still discernment to do, actually the real discernment. Because, so I was taught, real discernment is not a choice between good and evil. Discernment is a choice between two goods. As CS Lewis taught in the “The Great Divorce” things grow farther apart as they reach perfection. Good becomes different from evil and then becomes different from other goods. And we are asked to choose not just the good, but the magis, the “more.” We are asked to choose not just what give God glory, but what would give God the greatest glory. And good people, my spiritual director, are always tempted by the good, but the merely good can stand in the way of the magis, the majorum Dei gloriam, from what will give God the greatest glory. It’s not enough to get by, for Ignatius––what is the best thing I can do for God, with my life, in my vocation.

Jesus says it this way:

The reign of God is like a net that was thrown into the sea
and caught fish of every kind;
when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down,
and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad…
And every scribe who has been trained for the reign of God
is like the head of a household who brings out of the treasure
what is new and what is old.’ (Mt 13:47–52)

We learn from Ignatius’ memoirs how he experienced passing joy and then sadness when he thought of worldly pleasures––kind of like a sugar high, but then he experienced lasting peace when he thought of the joys of heaven, from which comes his teaching on consolation and desolation in the exercises. It reminded me of this in the Katha Upanishad at the beginning of Yama’s discourse to Nachiketa, the first bit of wisdom he offers:

The good is one thing, the pleasant is another.
Both the good and the pleasant present themselves to us.
The calm soul examines them well and discriminates.
It goes well with those who, of the two, takes the good;
But those who choose the pleasant miss the end. (I.ii.I)

How do we learn this discernment, how do we know which are good fish and bad fish, what is good out of the old and the new, the difference between the merely pleasant and the good, then between the good and the magis? We sometimes have the mistaken notion that doing the will of God means our annihilation. I think even of some of old religious who have told me that their way used to be, “Oh, so you’re good at music? You’ll be teaching science!” It was a matter of breaking someone’s will. But our wills are not meant to be broken, they are meant to lined up with God’s will, and God’s will is our delight, God’s will is that we experience consolation and bliss. St Ignatius insists that what comes from following God’s will for us (what PRH might call our “essential course of action”) is consolation; my spiritual director called it “bliss!” The famous line from the movie Chariots of Fire, and “When I run I feel His pleasure.” Frederick Buechner says, “The place where God calls you is where your deep joy meets the world’s deep hunger.” We are meant to feel consolation and bliss, we are meant to feel divine pleasure in doing the will of God. Thomas Merton says it a different way in his revisiting of the Prometheus myth: “Our own joy is heaven’s mirth.” We learn to discern, we know the difference between the merely pleasant and the good, the good and the magis when we feel this consolation, this bliss, the pleasure of God.

This is not to say that there still isn’t an ascesis involved, an abnegation, a way of the cross. We still need to give up the merely pleasant for the good; and then give up the good for the magis, for the greater glory of God. But this is our very nature. I re-found this beautiful passage written by an anonymous Carthusian recently in The Wound of Love: “…continual progress is constitutive of the soul itself; and it keeps itself constantly oriented toward something higher than itself.” We are growing from glory to glory! So what we do is merely a reflection of who we are, ad majorem Dei gloriam.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

pulling up the weeds

He put before them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to someone who sowed good seed in his field; but while everybody was asleep, an enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and then went away. So when the plants came up and bore grain, then the weeds appeared as well. And the slaves of the householder came and said to him, “Master, did you not sow good seed in your field? Where, then, did these weeds come from?” He answered, “An enemy has done this.” The slaves said to him, “Then do you want us to go and gather them?” But he replied, “No; for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest; and at harvest time I will tell the reapers, Collect the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.”
Matt 13:24-30
This Gospel passage spoke to me on a few different but inter-related levels. This first has to do with anger and violence. The Wisdom literature, whence comes the reading we heard that introduced this Gospel (Wis 12:13, 16-19), is later Hebrew literature, and the portrait of God being painted is somewhat more nuanced and attenuated than earlier images. And so in it we hear that although God is sovereign in strength, God judges with mildness, and governs with great forbearance. Following on that, therefore, God has shown us that the righteous must be kind, it is a salient feature of a righteous person to be kind.

Now, this must be connected to and have something to teach us about the Gospel we have heard or the church would never have paired these two readings together. Jesus is always showing us who God is, and showing us also how we are to be as well––so as to “be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Nathan Mitchell writes in his book Real Presence that Jesus is showing us that God is neither angry or vengeful––precisely because God has no “ego” to defend. Jesus shows us is that the very nature of God is

"… unconditional compassion towards the human world,
unimpeachable love for creatures and creation.
God is that One who cherishes people and makes them free.
God’s will is always and only a willing of good.
God’s power is always and only a power exercised on behalf of those who need it… "

It’s true that there are examples of Jesus being fueled with righteous anger––and it’s also notable that this anger is always and only shown to be directed at religious leaders and hypocrites, from clearing the temple to scolding the Pharisees and Sadducees. So even if I might find in Jesus a certain justification for myself to start tearing out the weeds, in reality, I have to admit when I am filled with righteous indignation or justifiable anger, I am usually actually more indignant and angry than I am either righteous or just. And does not St Peter, and do not the desert fathers, constantly warn us against anger? Even AA calls it a “dubious luxury.” How much more strength it actually takes for me to let the weeds grow and let God do the sorting! This is not to say that there isn’t some injustice and evil that must be faced head on––lest we fall into a sort of quietism––but there also must be a time for ignoring the weeds and getting on with it, getting on with growing and growing up.

This is one of the things I have always admired about St Francis of Assisi. In spite of the fact that the church at his time was corrupt, and monasticism in his day had grown sort of fat and sassy, and had lost the spark that had been kindled just a few centuries before, Francis didn’t spend a lot of time or energy or waste any breath criticizing either institution. And there was plenty to criticize as many other reformer saints did––but not Francis. As a friend of mine and I like to say, Francis just “walked the other way.” He was totally fixed on this one thing, this other way of being monk, this other way of being Christian, total positive energy. And out of that seed falling on good ground a revolution in religious life and the church took place. You might say the same about St Romuald as well, though he was a little tough on his fellow monks.

So, practically speaking, often when I am tempted to fall into justified anger or righteous indignation––when I want to start tearing up the weeds––I try to remember that I am probably neither just nor righteous, just angry and indignant, which is usually more my ego in defense. I think a good first move is to let it go (mind you, I cannot do it at times either) and let the angels weed out the weeds from the wheat, and concentrate my energy instead on building something new––me.

At another level, I remember saying to another monk once how I thought that the only violence I should use was against evil thoughts and temptations, and he told me, quite calmly, “Well, some people think that we shouldn’t even use violence against ourselves or our thoughts.” Orthodox Bishop Kallistos Ware teaches this about prayer––and I think this applies to things at every level, physical, psychological, spiritual. He says that our “spiritual strategy” should be positive rather than negative: even instead of fighting our passions directly and trying to eliminate them by an effort of will––that is, tear out the weeds––, we simply turn and fix our attention somewhere else. While there is a time for uprooting our inbred compulsions, working on our obsessions and neuroses, there is also a time for our spiritual strategy to be totally positive, walking the other way, nurturing the growth of the wheat.

At a spiritual level too, at the level of prayer and meditation, this is an alternative approach to the obviously legitimate one spoken of by the fathers of the desert––taking all thoughts captive to Christ, but I think it’s equally valid and I have found, at times, even better. I’ve seen it echoed by many great teachers of prayer and meditation, on the issue of thoughts, what we should do about what Buddhists call the “monkey mind” that is always jumping from this branch to the next, and will never sit still for even a moment. We can try to fight our thoughts and try to make our mind stop jumping around by sheer force of will. But I don’t think that works for most people––we get caught up in thinking about not thinking, and we waste all of our energy trying not to think. Shunryu Suzuki teaches that when we are meditating we should not try to stop our thinking, but let the thinking stop itself. What we do is not focus on our thinking, on our monkey mind, on the weeds. We focus on our breath, our mantra, our word; we focus on the saving power of the name of Jesus, and attach our intention and attention to it. We don’t focus on the weeds, we focus on the wheat growing from the good seed. Or as Abba Isaac teaches in the great Conference X on Prayer, if “wandering thoughts surge about my soul like boiling water, and I cannot control them, nor can I offer prayer without its being interrupted by silly images,” I cling to this one prayer, his prayer being, “O God, come to my assistance; O Lord make haste to help me.”

Instead of trying to tear up the weeds, sometimes we simply need to look to God, we count on the grace that comes through prayer, which can overcome anything that we cannot root out by our own strength. Instead of trying tear out the weeds, instead of trying to empty our mind of bad or distracting things, we fill it with something we are sure is good and healthy. In other words, we don’t worry about the weeds; we concentrate on the wheat. Or, to put it another way, we just “walk the other way.”

Barsinuphius and John, two other fathers of the desert, had a different way of saying it. They taught that we must “lay before God our powerlessness.” And that calls to mind the second reading that we heard today, the climax of the letter to the Romans, "Paul's Gospel" (Rom 8:26-27). At all levels of our life, we lay before God our powerlessness because, when we do, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” Perhaps this is why the mantra of the desert was “O God come to my assistance…” and why the Jesus Prayer developed: “…have mercy on me.” We lay before God the fact that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,” we lay before God the fact that we do not know how to think as we ought, that we do not even know how to live as we ought. And as soon as we do, as soon as we ask for that mercy, “that very Spirit intercedes (for us) with sighs too deep for words.” That very Spirit becomes our strength and our song, our prayer and our praise. “And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God."

Sunday, July 13, 2008

dazzled but sober

I’ve known fear and terrible solitude,
tranquillizers and drugs––those phony friends––
the prison of depression and hospitals.
I’ve emerged from all this, dazzled but sober.
Yves Saint-Laurent

I was torn between which quote to offer on the last blog. This one from Yves Saint Laurent is not as dark as it would seem at first glance. I like the phrase “dazzled but sober.”

Thanks for all those of you who actually have been reading this blog, and have been asking for me to add. For me writing takes a certain amount of composure and leisure besides inspiration, and these weeks have been a little topsy-turvy with goings and comings and traveling. But, to finish in brief my Italian soggiorno and bring you up to date...

We ended the choir tour with a wonderful dinner at an agritourismo place outside of Rome (I am always surpirsed by how little it takes to arrive in the coutnryside outside of Rome...), everyone celebrating the great success of the concerts, the efficiency and friendliness of the tour company and guides (Rita and Rita), and how much all enjoyed each others’ company. Mom and Dad were graciously allowed to attend the closing banquet with us as well and made a lot of new acquaintances as they are so good at doing.

The next day, Tuesday, I took off by train for points east. I always love taking train trips in Italy, and this was no exception. I headed almost straight east, a long trip across the country, to Fano, right on the Adriatic coast. There I was met by my friend and brother monk Natale. I know Natale from my earliest trips to Italy. He also did a year of study in Berkeley during my first year on my own and came quite regularly to visit me in Santa Cruz, even traveling with me a few times when I had to drive to one or the other gig. I think of him, for better or worse, as one of my Italian teachers. He himself consequently took an exclaustration from his community, the Eremo of San Giorgio at Garda.

Shortly after Natale returned from his exclaustration he was asked to transfer to another community, Monte Giove, a hermitage very similar to the one at Garda, both of them having belonged to the other congregation of Camaldolese who are strictly hermits, the Cornonesi. It is a small place with only eight hermitages around an old church with a beautiful choir area behind the altar, as is typical of the Coronesi houses. It also overlooks the city of Fano and the Adriatic. Natale was just ordained deacon, and appointed temporary administrator of the community, and is set to be ordained priest some time after the Consulta in the Fall so that he can be named prior, ordination still being a requirement for that office. They are a small community, only five. The hermitage at Garda was lovingly and beautifully restored by our friends Gianni and Giorgio, who acted as magnanimous hosts to Raniero and me our first times in Italy; and Natale has plans to restore Monte Giove in the same way. He seems to be looking forward to it all, which I simply marvel at and am quite impressed at how easily he has slipped into the role.

Natale then drove me over to meet another monk friend, Marino, formerly of Camaldoli, now stationed at Fonte Avellana. (Mind you, all of these locations deserve much more attention than I am giving them.) I spent two nights there. Almost all are in agreement that Fonte Avellana is the most beautiful of our monasteries. It was the home of St Peter Damian, biographer of St Romuald, cardinal and doctor of the church. It sits in a valley surrounded by pretty ominous cliffs in the Marche. The prior there is Alessandro Barban, who has also done an incredible job of restoration. They have a few young guys there as candidates, and seem pretty vibrant. I enjoyed visiting there, especially with Marino, another of my first Italian monk brother acquaintances along with Natale. Marino and I did yoga together in one of the beautiful side chapels that have been stripped down and restored to a pristine Romanesque purity. One evening I watched "Into the Wild" with them, which I had already seen in America. It was interesting to see it a second time, this time doppiato-dubbed into Italian. I loved it the first time, and the second time, and my confreres agreed that there was something proprio monastico about his whole thrust.

I made it back to Rome by Thursday afternoon, in time to have one more meal with Mom and Dad, and then say goodbye as they were about to set off in the morning for the first of their two (!) cruises, the first a Mediterranean tour, the second a journey home across the Atlantic on the Queen Mary with their pastor. I had one more day to myself in Rome to do laundry and wander a bit. It was as hot as a furnace there, especially in my room––for some reason the same room I have had the last four times I have stayed there, #11 in the corridor they call Monte della Luna––four floors up with no breeze at all. I did walk around quite a bit looking for a few small gifts, and accidentally wound up right in the heart of the tourist area, the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain, Piazza Navona. I had never seen such crowds there before! It was almost frightening, and certainly not very attractive.

Then Saturday I made the journey through Zurich and across the Atlantic again for a week stay in New Jersey for the National Pastoral Musicians Convention. I have found that I am much happier attending those if I do not actually stay in the hotel where they are being held. Luckily my friend and godson Alberto, with his wife Dana and daughter Catalina, live right down the road from East Brunswick, where the convention was being held, in beautiful Princeton. Alberto and Dana have their own small Interactive Media Company, and are a couple of intelligent and creative people––both Yale graduates, and great company and hosts. As a matter of fact they are the hosts and creators of my Web page on Massmind. I always wind up having at last one intense conversation with Alberto along the way about the meaning of everything and our place in it, with Dana doing her best to arbitrate, and this was no exception. I had a great visit with them between work hours as well as with my other old friend Michael Dembesky, of Scranton, Pennsylvania who came over for one overnight.

At the convention itself, I offered a three hour pre-convention retreat, did a Psalite showcase for Lit Press and another for OCP, and sang for a performance of a new collection of Gospel inspired psalms with Val Limar, Rawn Harbor and Val Parker, with the attendant rehearsals for the same. And then the last day, Thursday, I gave a presentation for one of the "break-out" sessions. In between of course I had lots of friendly conversations with many old friends, some who go back 30 years now, such as Tom Kendzia the composer and producer now of Rhode Island.

Then finally home on the 4th of July, in time for fireworks with John and Marie and the girls over Monterey Bay. My brothers from Big Sur in the meantime had been evacuated up to St Clare’s retreat house up off highway 17 due to the Basin Complex fire in Big Sur. Apparently the hermitage itself was never in any danger but the firefighters started a backfire a few miles north on Dolan Ridge and due to liability had to require mandatory evacuation of anyone in the area. Five monks and some workers were allowed to stay behind for the time being. So this week I have been shuffling back and forth between my cabin in Corralitos, my desk at Holy Cross in Santa Cruz and the brothers up at St Clare’s all week. It has been interesting to have them so close for a week. I sort of played host for a recreation day last Monday and aided them wandering around Santa Cruz to book stores and snack places. It has been good to be so close to be able to go up and celebrate Mass with them. They are heading home tomorrow and I will be going down myself on Wednesday for the Visitation. Don Bernardino, the prior general is coming in with Bro Ivan, also to celebrate our official 50th anniversary on the last Sunday of July.

I hope to post a few photos soon: (a load just came in from our concerts in Italy) and maybe some of the recent talks on the Web Site: Until then…

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Nel mezzo cammin’ di nostra vita

22 june 2008

Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita

mi ritrovai per una selva oscura

che' la diritta via era smarrita.

Ahi quanto a dir qual era e` cosa dura

esta selva selvaggia e aspra e forte

che nel
pensier rinova la paura!

I’m not sure those lines are exactly right. They are the opening of Purgatorio from Dante’s Divina Commedia, which apparently every school child in Italy learns at some point in his or her scholastic career. “In middle of the walk of our life I found myself in a dark woods because the right way was lost. Ah, just to tell how difficult a thing it was, in the rethinking of it the fear raises itself again!” They were the lines with which Don Bernardino greeted me on the morning of St Romuald’s feast day June 19, which also happened to be my 50th birthday, which I was lucky enough to spend at the motherhouse in Tuscany. But I’m already getting ahead of myself.

My family arrived 7 June as planned. I had rented a car in Florence to go and retrieve them from Rome. I left in plenty of time to meet them as they got off the plane, not counting of course on the fact that an oil tanker was going to overturn on the A1 causing us to sit in traffic for 2 ½ hours. By the time I flew into Fiumicino they had already been waiting over an hour and were starting to make phone calls to Stefano (on his honeymoon) to see if he knew anything. To make matters worse, when I parked the car I realized I was in the wrong spot––the national rather than international terminal––but when I tried to move my rented Alfa Romeo station wagon, I couldn’t get it into reverse. Neither could I get the machine that issues parking receipts to work. So I was running up and down the terminal trying to catch sight of my folks, meantime running back and forth to the car to make sure it wasn’t getting towed, and then, finally finding them raced back to the car, which my nephew Tyge and I then had to push out of the parking space… You get the picture.

My folks and my sister had rented a townhouse in a place called Tavernelle just south of Florence. It was very nice, with three bedrooms and two baths, a generous kitchen and living room, enough space for the five of us plus my friend John who came later. We made a bunch of day trips the following week, to Florence for Mass at San Miniato and lunch with Luisa, to San Gimigniano and Volterra, Pisa and Siena.

We had one disastrous day, Wednesday, the second of my three trips to Rome in a week. Mom had procured tickets for us for the papal audience at 11:00, which we were supposed to go and pick up from a priest acquaintance of hers who lived near the Trevi Fountain. I had a sense of foreboding danger, or at least a healthy respect for human error, and had insisted that we leave very early. We had the route all planned out, with Tyge navigating. We got off fine, made one bad turn coming into Rome, corrected that and then headed into Rome. We made another bad turn but then while trying to correct that suddenly we found the streets absolutely gridlocked–blindate as the Italians say. There were carabinieri everywhere and roadblocks set up all over the place, which led to masses of cars all vying for the same little two lane streets. It was a nightmare, right out of the Inferno (since it was also getting hotter and hotter). No matter which way we turned, total gridlock. We actually found out that we did not have a very good map after all, so part of the time we had no idea where we were, but then even when we did figure out where we were, we had no luck crossing over to the part of town which I knew. At one point we asked a guy on the street what was happening, and he said, Doverebbe esser qualche politico importante––“It must be some important politician.” We watched the hour of our papal audience come and go and still we sat and sat. Finally I made a dash for it over the Tiber, just following my instincts, and at one point pointed to my left and said, “There, there’s St Peter’s,” found a parking place somewhat nearby and we all got out of the car. It had taken seven hours. We were all a little rattled and I was literally shaking, but I was impressed, and said so to everyone, at how patient everyone had been. No one had said anything nasty to anyone nor even complained too much.

We found out only then who the important politico was: President Bush on his farewell tour of Europe. We are a family of tried and true Democrats, mind you, (except for the year when I slipped away and voted for Bush pere), and my folks quite vocal critics of everything and anything having to do with this president, so you can imagine the outcry. Mom kept saying, “So President Bush made us miss seeing the Pope!”

We got some lunch and walked around, and then I drove everyone across the Tiber again to let Patti and Tyge see the Forum and Colloseum, while Mom and Dad and I walked up to San Antonio, our women’s monastery where they were to be staying the next week, to confirm their rooms and get a cold drink. That’s when the funniest thing happened. Patti and Tyge were waiting for us on the Circus Maximus where we had parked. They thought it was a little strange that there were no other pedestrians or cars, and so many carabinieri around. Then suddenly there was a wail of sirens and a long entourage of limousines driving by. Near the end of the line of cars they suddenly saw a familiar face peering out the window, looking straight at them and waving: President Bush.

Anyway, I had one more trip to Rome on Friday. I dropped Patti and Tyge off for a day trip to Orvieto and then headed down to Fiumicino again to meet John Marheineke who was coming in a few days early for his chaperoning duty with the students of St Francis High School. We had a happy three days together then, nice morning runs and a little yoga overlooking the Tuscan countryside. No––let me describe a morning run on vacation with Cyprian in Tuscany: we ran about a mile to the end of a dirt rood and stopped to admire the landscape bathed in golden blue light, then ran a little farther down another driveway to stop and see a farm, then ran back up to the church where we sat down to meditate against the old stone walls for ten minutes, and then we ran past the house, stopping occasionally to look at and smell flowers, up to the Bar for an coffee and tow pastries and then we ran back to apartment compound where we did some yoga by the pool. I think of it as cross training. We also managed to sneak in a good deal of guitar playing over the next few days, particularly those first days entertaining the group from New Jersey that was also staying in the complex. Then we all headed back into Florence on Saturday to pick up Dad’s rental car and have another lunch with Luisa. John and I stayed on for the evening and walked down to the Badia Fiorentina for evening prayer with the Communità di Gerusalemme. I hadn’t told him anything about the music they sang and he had just the reaction that I imagined he would. After the one nun intoned the opening verse, the others came in their beautiful four-part Byzantine style harmony, John’s eyes opened wider and he looked at me and said under his breath, “Wow…” Sunday early morning, Father’s Day in America, we all headed for Camaldoli. On the way we stopped at the top of the Consuma Pass, in the village of Consuma, for breakfast of schiacciata, at a place that is famous for the same that Stefano had introduced me to some years ago and that I had been advertising all week. It didn’t disappoint. Then Mass and lunch at Camaldoli after which my family took off leaving John and I to our whiles. Later in the afteroon, we went and visited the four nuns who live in one of the converted villas at nearby Partina. John fell in love with them, as Suor Paulina guided us through a tour of facility and Suor Graziana showed us her famous embroidered jewelry work, woven of silver and gold threads, which, as she said un lavoro di un certosino–“the work of a Carthusian,” meaning it takes lots of patience. The other two sisters joined us, Madre Francesca and Sour Domenica (Sempre Domenica, she said: “Always Sunday! Even on martedi, mercoledi, giovedi––Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday––I am always Domenica.”) They offered us some tea and we offered them a little music, and then we headed back up to the hermitage for evening prayer. I had a good visit with Peter from Australia while John got in a good visit to the library, snooping around with his camera taking pictures sconces and door frames, and rare and ancient books, not to mention The History of the Doors. You gotta love a place that has sixteenth century manuscripts and 20th century books on contemporary culture living under the same roof. That’s Camaldoli at its best, and no doubt mostly the influence of Ivan.

The next day the choir from Monterey was to come to Camaldoli for us to begin our retreat and concert tour. After a good hike and run, John and I killed some time waiting for them––they wound up being two hours late––playing guitar and singing in John’s room on the ground floor of the monastery. After choir arrived we had lunch at the foresteria of the monastery, a visit and a conference offered by me up at the Sacro Eremo, and then Mass again down at the monastery before leaving for Assisi. Later in the week many of the pilgrims told me that that was there favorite Mass and lunch.

Then we headed for Assisi where we spent the next two days. We had the use of a large rather lifeless room in our hotel (ironically, for Assisi, called “The Grand Hotel”) for our morning prayers etc., but held our conferences over in a wonderful meeting room, the Sala Romanica, at the convento under the Basilica of San Francesco. I was sad to see John off to the train station Monday, but he had to go to his students who were arriving. We finished the retreat and had our first concert in the basilica superiore Wednesday evening. I was amazed: the place was full! It has an astounding acoustic and we sang very well. (So well in fact that the friar in charge already called and invited Sr Barbara to return at some point.) The folks that I had met in India who lived nearby were there for the concert and we had a nice bite to eat after the concert. I have to say, I love the Italy-India connection.

After the concert that evening I headed to Camaldoli again. I had been advised to take a route that, after the highways, carried me through hills and woods and little villages on 34 kilometers of a very windy road through the Valle Santa–the holy valley, as they call it, since it connects Laverna and Camaldoli. It was a little grueling at 1 AM, since that was what time it was when I finally made it there, pulling into Camaldoli itself around 1:30. I have this notion in my head that you are supposed to spend your birthday, like New Year’s Day, doing what you want to do for the year ahead. So I woke up on the 19th to the sound of birds singing, had morning prayer with the brothers, got Dante recited to me at breakfast, and then repeated the hike and run up to the hermitage, came back down and did yoga before Mass and lunch. Santosh! This is enough. I hope that’s the way I can spend the rest of the year ahead too.

The afternoon was a little more droll. As nice as it sounded on paper to spend my 50th birthday and St Romauld’s Day at the motherhouse, being surrounded by 300 guests (for the feast, not for my birthday) in a foreign country wasn’t that much fun. I slipped away as soon as possible and spent most of the afternoon doing laundry, changing my guitar strings and napping, and got to bed good and early for my early AM departure back to Florence.

Anyway, back to Florence the next morning to deliver the car, one last visit up to San Miniato, mainly to do e-mail besides visit with Ilde and all, pranzo and an afternoon visit with all my Florentine friends––Luisa, Stefano and Pamela down from Treviso, and their and now my friend Francesco. Then I was off to the Demidoff Hotel to meet the choir again and do the evening concert at Santo Stefano al Ponte right on the Ponte Vecchio. That concert was harder. The building is a chiesa sconsecrata–deconsecrated church. It has a cold ambiance and a strange acoustic. Besides that, a catering company had set up their kitchen prep unit for an outdoor fashion event on the Ponte Vecchio right in front of the doors of the church, so access was blocked to possible audience members. The woman tour guide, Rita, let off the full steam of her Italian temper at them––it wasn’t their fault––called the police and gave us quite a show. Still, many of my friends came for the concert, Stefano et al, plus some other people from his wedding and my Camaldolese confrere Axel who is studying in Florence, so it was still a good evening.

Then we headed to Rome. After Mass at the hotel, the bus drove everyone else down to Piazza Santa Croce for one more morning of sight-seeing, and then drove me––all by myself with the driver in a 50 passenger tour bus––across town to the stazione where I took the Eurostar down ahead of them to Rome, to get my room here at San Gregorio and meet my family who was to be staying across the Circus Maximus with the nuns at San Antonio.

We had our Mass at St Peter’s with the choir yesterday at 10:30. I must say after all these years I can still not warm up to St Peter’s in any way, especially the stiffness and cold formality of ritual and the stifling clericalism––dozens of vested priests and bishops and a cardinal concelebrating, an all male schola, all male acolytes. The choir sang very well and were most edifying in their devotion and excitement to be there at the visible center of our faith, but that is not the center of our faith. The heart, the heart is the center of our faith. There was one nice moment for me that the Psallite people will enjoy. We were in the chapel behind the main altar, the Altar of the Chair as it is called. And the choir was in the what Sr Barbara calls “the pen.” Sr Barbara had graciously scheduled for us to sing our Psallite Thanksgiving ostinato “May God Grant Us Joy of Heart” as the communion song. I usually perform the verses on that pretty freely, a stke that would mightily contrast to the high-collared execution of the de rigeur usual Gregorian chant of the place. I did try to sing it a straight as possible, adding the third and fourth verse, which I have actually never sung. But on the last verse and the final Alleluia verse I put my binder down and closed my eyes and just let it out. It did turn a few heads apparently. I didn’t want to shock but I did really want to bring my voice to that huge space, and some lightness and life to all the Baroque pageantry as well. I think we did. I was half-jokingly threatening the choir that I was going to break into “There Is A Light,” which has sounded astounding with that many voices singing it in the four-part arrangement in every place we have been.

We did get a peek at the Pope doing the Sunday Angelus out of his window right after Mass. As much as I am put off by St Peter’s, I was still anxious and quite moved to catch a sight of the Holy Father and to hear his voice live. From our vantage point he was about a half an inch tall, a little speck of white, but still, to know that that was really he I found moving. He’s doing his best.

Then our final concert was last night at the Chiesa del Santissimo Nome di Gesù, the motherhouse of the Jesuits. It is a beautiful place, in spite of being high high Baroque. I didn’t know that the body of St Ignatius is actually there as well as the hand of St Francis Xavier in a reliquary. The rector was as gracious as could be, the acoustic was amazing and the choir did very well. A handful of our nuns came to the concert last night, including to of the sisters from India. They and four Keralese priests who are here studying were all most happy to have heard the Indian pieces, He Prabhu, but especially the Aarathi which was in their language. I have to say I light up whenever there are some Indians around and fell myself more at home. Again, that Italian-India connection.

My folks are still here. We will join the choir for a closing feast tonight and then I will head out on the train in the morning to go visit some of my confreres in distance parts, Natale at Monte Giove in Fano, and Marino at Fonte Avellana.

(I am posting this only now on July 1 but will try to catch up soon. Am currently in New Jersey, working a National Pastoral Musicians Convention and staying with my godson Alberto and his family, traveling home on the 4th.)