Saturday, September 24, 2016

across the tasman sea

25 September 2016, Melbourne, Australia

If Jesus should come and knock on your door
for a place to come in, or bread from your store,
would you welcome him in, or turn him away?
Then God would deny you on the great judgment day.

Just after I wrote that last entry I had a wonderful experience, a little thing that touched my heart pretty deeply. (As Br. Bede says, “It’s the little things…”) I was at the local gym, got in a good workout, and was about to leave. I asked the kind woman at the desk, who had been very welcoming as I got there, if there was any place where I could get a cup of tea. She thought for a moment, screwed up her face and said, “Well, the café is already closed…. Hmmm… Just sit down over there and I’ll make you a cuppa.” And she did, disappearing into a backroom and re-appearing a few minutes later with a good strong cuppa. I had many little instances of that during my days in NZ, not to mention that kind hospitality of my hosts Michael and Elizabeth.

My last two evenings enjoying Kiwi hospitality in New Zealand were spent doing two presentations, one at the parish in the town of Whangerei and another back down the coast in Auckland. Both were meant to be and advertised as interfaith events. The first one, in the smaller town of Whangerei, drew quite a mixed crowd. Afterwards I met some Baha’is and Vedantists and Buddhist practitioners. It was fun; as back in the day at the end of my time on the road I used to do events that were half-singing/half-speaking, so for these, since Michael had left the theme pretty open, I just picked five songs and did long introductions to them. The next night in the big city of Auckland (at least a fourth of the population of New Zealand lives there, over a million people), was mostly members of the World Community of Christian Meditation, who co-sponsored both events along with our Camaldolese oblates. I did the same program there but this time added on an extra half hour and left time at the end for a group meditation. It was a very sweet evening, and I found people enormously receptive and myself enormously satisfied.

In Auckland we were the guests of Fr. Peter Murphy who is very active with the WCCM and extremely well read in much the same area of interest as I myself have, so we had a good lively discussion about lo’ these many things. Peter had spent some years in California studying at the Center for Creation Spirituality, so that added a whole other layer to our discussion. Perhaps it is just the folks with whom I am hanging out, but I have noticed so much interest in and dedication to environmental concerns and sustainability in these parts, especially among Christians. It is inspiring and challenging. It is also so fascinating to find these common threads of dedication and enquiry at such a distant part of the globe and also heartening to realize that it is not just the tragedies in life that bind us together––global warming, the refugee crisis, warring states, Donald Trump––but we are also part of a tapestry woven together of common interest and common aspiration, common hope and energy.

Early the next morning I headed across the Tasman Sea on a four hour flight here to Melbourne. I was accompanied by our oblate Phillip Saunders, who was heading over here for family matters. It was nice to have the company, and then to be greeted by our obate here, Hans Christensen. Hans is an Anglican priest, a Camaldolese oblate and the chaplain of a large prestigious boys school here in Melbourne. We had met when I was here in 2009 for the retreat in Tasmania and had remained in contact occasionally since then. Hans is another one with whom I have so many interests in common and we began tripping over each other’s sentences almost right away. He and his wife Ruth (and their dog Nelson) took me on a good long walking tour of Melbourne that afternoon. What a beautiful city! The architecture and the large art installations all over the place are especially impressive, but the city is also very clean, diverse and seemingly loaded with culture of all kinds.

Yesterday (Saturday) I led a day retreat for members of the World Community from several places here in the state Victoria, two long sessions, one in the morning and another in the afternoon. Again, it was fun to revisit old material with a new audience: the morning was on the Universal Call to Contemplation and the afternoon was on Spirit, Soul and Body. What was most interesting was to see what new material actually came up in me after a three-year hiatus from broaching these topics.

Today I am preaching at a nearby Anglican church, which I’m alternatively told is very conservative and/or very high church. Hans has recommended that I wear my “whites” and helped me get all the Roman mud off the hems (nothing allegorical intended there; it was raining my last day in Rome as I walked home from the Congress at Sant’Anselmo, all of which, by the way, seems like a world away by now––and not only geographically). I’ll post my homily below as well. If the few of you are reading who remember this: a few years ago the song “Tramp on the Street” resurfaced at a conference with SN up at Mount Madonna, a song I hadn’t sung since I was in Chicago in 1976-77. That’s the gospel today––Lazarus, and I had fun with Ruth and Hans, who also knew the song, looking up its origins (and getting the lyrics right; the quote above is one verse I had never heard before, by the way.) You should look up Hank Williams’ version of it on YouTube, but it goes back farther. I am at least going to quote it in my homily, though still unsure whether or not I am actually going to break into song at a conservative and/or high church Anglican parish on a sunny Sunday morning in Melbourne.