Wednesday, January 9, 2013

you give them something to eat

Come all you weary who move through the earth.
You've been spurned at fine restaurants and kicked out of church.
Got a couple of loaves sit down at my feet.
Lend me your ears and we'll break bread and eat.
                                                            (Dustin Kensrue)

We’ve been inundated with homilies here the past few weeks during this Christmas season, some of them very good, obviously, but there is a saturation point! I was scheduled to preside yesterday and had decided ahead of time that, especially since I had just preached on Sunday, it was time for everybody to have a day off. But then I saw the gospel of the day: Mark 6:34-44.

Somehow this gospel sums up everything I understand of what it means to be church and to be a Eucharistic people, what the authentic spirit of our missionary activity and apostolate ought to be. During my morning walk/run on the hill I was thinking about what I was going to say and I suddenly remembered that it was exactly this week 10 years ago that all hell broke loose in my head. I was still living here with the community at the time. The sex scandal had just broken in Boston, followed by the very inept handling of it on the part of the hierarchy and some very inopportune statements from the Vatican. I heard Bruno preach on this very gospel that week, and the next day I attended our Four Winds inter-religious Gathering down at Esalen Institute. There were some other issues going on with community and in my own life at the time as well, and something about the combination of those three things set off this perfect storm of agitation and discontent. Thursday of that week I had what we call a “desert day,” 36 hours of solitude. For some reason I had a weight bench in my cell at the time and some dumbbells. And I remember literally rolling up my sleeves, picking up one of the weights and saying to God, “Okay let’s go. What is it this time?” Looking back, it was clearly that week that was the beginning of my eventually moving out and spending ten years living away from the community in my experimental life up in Santa Cruz.

It starts out with Jesus seeking out the lost ones, Jesus had compassion on them––how I love this line––because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Jesus has compassion on them. How many times I thought of that line walking down Pacific Avenue in Santa Cruz, or on Water Street on my way back from the gym, passing the courthouse and the jail and the AA drop-in house. Jesus was not ever afraid or reluctant to break his solitary ecstatic communion with the Father to go and serve. But it was always specifically to those who were sheep without a shepherd, the lost ones, the little ones. I think even when Jesus says I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and tells his disciples too only to go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Mt 10:6, 15:24), the accent is on “lost” not on “Israel.” Jesus was sent to all those who get left out, squeezed out, those who fall off the boat, under the radar. It reminded me of a great song by a young singer-songwriter Dustin Kensrue, from the Southern California band Thrice that I quoted above: Jesus went to all those who were “spurned at fine restaurants / and kicked out of church.” I think it’s brilliant to put those two images together, because so many of our churches and religious communities carry much more the spirit of fine dining and polite company, than the company of drunks, tax collectors, lepers and prostitutes.

But after Jesus gets them gathered there and feeds them first on the Word, his good news, he then wants to make that concrete too and feed them actual food too, because peoples’ bodies were always as important to Jesus as their souls. And I think it’s kind of funny that the apostles were going to send them away––again! And when they turn to him he says, You give them something to eat! That’s the line I heard Bruno reiterate several times in that homily ten years ago that went through me like David’s pebble in the forehead of Goliath, or like the opening of a third eye (literally, I felt it hit me right there, between the eyebrows): You give them something to eat! That’s what it means to be a follower of mine––you need to seek out the lost and give them something to eat. And don’t worry if there is going to be enough (they only had five loaves and two fish). This is a great Eucharistic image, abundance. The food just keeps on coming, ‘til in the end there were twelve baskets of broken pieces left over. Generosity breeds generosity.

There’s a great lesson here for us as a church and as a monastic community. How many people get left out of our staid, polite, safe spiritual communities? (How much does this apply to spiritual communities outside of Catholic churches too?) And they are like sheep without a shepherd. We’ll have to answer for that. Because we don’t shepherd them when they are like sheep without a shepherd, because we don’t feed them when they are hungry, they go off to someone else who will feed them. They’ll go off to other churches, ashrams, zendos, Sufi circles, and get fed, and sometimes fed well, because we may be too concerned with preserving some kind of a pure ethic or a pure cult. But they also may go off to places where they get fed poison too! We need to be wary of ourselves. I think this is some of what our new Prior General Don Alessandro Barban was getting at when he spoke to us last year about the “new barbarian invasion” in Europe that so many Europeans and church folks are afraid of, watering down the culture and changing the face of Western civilization and the church. “But we Camaldolese,” he said, “we love the barbarians.”

I love the image at the end of this gospel, the twelve baskets of broken pieces. That’s a great image for the church (maybe also for the monastic choir), “twelve baskets of broken pieces,” broken because we are fragile and wounded; but broken in the positive sense too, broken and passed out as food for the world. I often say I would never dare to change the official words of the Mass (especially now that we have this new translation), but if I could I would change the end too: “Mass is ended––now you go give them something to eat!”

Come all you weary, you cripples, you lame.
I’ll help you along you can lay down your canes.
We’ve got a long way to go but we’ll travel as friends
The light’s growing bright further on further in.