Monday, October 3, 2016

a hidden wholeness

1 October, 2016, Queenscliff, Australia

It’s an act of rebellion to show up as someone trying to be whole, and as someone who believes there is a hidden wholeness beneath the very evident brokenness of our world.
                        Parker Palmer

Aussie fish 'n chips, "flake."
I had a wonderful three more free days down on the peninsula with Hans before coming here to the oblate retreat. There are a series of towns and villages on the bay side of the peninsula, some very simple and some on the luxurious side. Hans and Ruth have kept the house near the village of Rye that they lived in when Hans served as parish priest in nearby Sorrento. Many of the homes in this area are holiday homes and theirs too had the feeling of a beach house, a cross between Santa Cruz and Live Oak. There is of course a good surfing community here, and I actually learned that billabong is more than a brand name of surfing gear; it’s an aboriginal word (actually two: billa=water + bang=a channel), for a stagnant backwater pool off a river. Fr. Michael had driven me down, a long ride from the retreat center at Warburton with lively conversation, and after lunch Hans and I had a quiet afternoon with some errands, though he indulged me in my one wish for dinner: for some reason I had a hankering for fish and chips, to see how the Australian variety stacked up as compared to the English and Canadian. Just after dark he took me to a little place called Hector’s (with a name like that for all the world I was sure that the owners were going to be Mexicans; they weren’t), and we had “flake,” which is actually shark. Hans thought we would take away and eat at home, but I wanted the whole experience and suggested that we eat in, which actually meant eating out, on a metal table on the sidewalk right off the shore with a pretty blustery wind blowing, a scene that Hans has recounted several times already…

I have my old tried and true prayer service with me that I used to use on the road and which I was planning on using for this oblate retreat, and I decided to try it out on Hans. He liked it so much that we prayed morning and evening together from Wednesday night on, reading the Tao te Ching and Katha Upanishad off of my iPhone. We even co-opted Ruth into midday prayer with us before we left yesterday, that time reading from Laudato Si which Hans is reading with great admiration. Not often that kind of treat occurs, finding someone to pray and meditate with. In the morning on Thursday after taking the border collie, Nelson, for a walk down at the beach on the ocean side of the peninsula (it narrows here so that it is only a kilometer or so distance between the ocean and the bay), Hans took me on a grand hike in the national park. We first went one direction over some hills ‘til we spotted a herd of kangaroo. It was so cool, there were so many of them though I wouldn’t have noticed if he hadn’t pointed them out, so well camouflaged in the bush. And they were much bigger than I would have thought and looked strong and fearsome, though they themselves are timid. We kept walking toward them; they would stand and stare at us for a time with their limpid eyes and then bounce bounce bounce boing boing boing across the bush.
Then we headed the other direction, about a 5 kilometer hike through the bush and down to the shore, where we ate spinach and cheese pasties that Hans bought at the local pasty shop, which is now owned by a young Swedish gentleman, with whom Hans had a lively conversation. (Hans is originally from Denmark, and by the way it’s not pronounced “Hahns” as one might expect; the Danish is much more like “Hanns,” short flat “a.”) Later, after prayers, Hans prepared dinner and I played guitar a bit, biding time until the rest of the family showed up, Ruth and the two boys, Markus and Enoch. The whole mood of the place changed, of course, not at all for the worst and it was delightful to be around some nice domestic bliss for a few hours.

Hans had sort of co-opted the boys into taking me for a run in the bush along the shore in the morning. I was of course up at stupid-o’clock and Enoch too was up pretty early biding his time on the couch, until we finally had to rouse Markus around 9 o’clock. And then we had a great run, about 7 km., they reckoned, again through the bush along the shore, with Enoch leading the way until the end when Markus wanted to sprint the last bit along the street. Then after a bit of cacophonous yoga on the front porch and a wonderful lunch of smoked trout and hummus on thick toast, one of our other oblates, Joe, fetched us and we headed over here to Queenscliff. To get here be car would have taken a few hours, all around the bay and through Melbourne again, so we, of course, took the fairy, a huge boat that held about thirty cars. It was only a 45-minute cruise, but it was beautiful to see the shoreline and then the mouth that leads out to the ocean and the little village of Queenscliff as we approached. It is a lovely spot, with Victorian era homes, churches and public buildings. This area is one of the first places settled by the British, and it is from nearby that the first shots were fired in both the World War I and World War II, cannon fire across the bow aimed at German tankers who were trying to escape in the former case, and the same who were unaware that war had been declared in the latter.

Sr. Nola at the Santa Casa.
The retreat center, Santa Casa, is run by the Mercy Sisters, the same congregation that runs so many retreat centers in the States. Or, I should say, is run by one sole Mercy sister, Nola, and she does a great job. The place is very clean, quiet and well appointed. The main building, where most of us are housed, too is from the Victorian era, and there is another more modern building where we are gathering for our conferences and prayers. This gathering feels a bit different from the oblate retreat on Tasmania in 2009, a few less people and not all of them are oblates (14) but “observers” (6), nonetheless very invested and attentive. I had a lively discussion with several of the folks last night during and after dinner, one of them now a yoga teacher and iconographer (great combination) that I had met back in 2009 and with whom I had stayed in touch sporadically all these years. The guys I spoke with at least seem to be as very well read as Michael and Hans, and I found myself discussing Panikkar and Abhishiktananda with no real gaps to fill in.

Monday, October 3, Church of St. Mary of the Angels, Bukit Batok, Singapore

It was so interesting to step out of the airport and smell the air here in Singapore again. I transited through here so many times between 2006 and 2013, usually on my way to and from India, that it began to feel like a second home. I got in so late that I had to stay the night at Leonard’s last night, my old friend from here who again fetched me from the airport. He had set up a separate en suite room for me in the apartment and I slept very well ‘til about 5 when a massive thunderstorm blew through. It rains here all the time, like nearly every day, but I don’t ever remember experiencing thunder and lightning like that, and it caused me to have one of those odd travel moments where I couldn’t figure out where the heck I was, but I woke up thinking that I was on the uppermost floor of a high rise somewhere in Asia. (The apartment building is only seven or eight stories and we were on the fifth.) The rest of the morning couldn’t have been nicer: I got to use the gym at the apartment complex, then Leonard arranged for me to have a massage of sorts––their favorite Chinese body worker, Helen, does a unique combination of acupressure and massage––right there in the living room. And then I accomplished another of my goals, getting a new pair of glasses here in Singapore where there is a wide selection of one-off frames and they are less expensive than in the states. Now I am firmly ensconced at the friary at the Church of St. Mary of the Angels. I have stayed here many times, but usually in the parish house instead of the friary. It is very comfortable here and I shall enjoy celebrating part of the Transitus with them tonight and tomorrow.

Our oblates Down Under; Fr. Michael is to my left; Hans is three down from him.
The retreat in Australia ended very well. This is about the fourth time now I have offered a retreat on this particular theme, drawn from Bruno’s Second Simplicity––the quaternitas of the Silence, the Word, the Music and the Dance––but filled in with my own material. Just as in almost every retreat conference he gave Bruno used to always walk and draw a cross with a circle around it, a mandala, and then fill it in, so I have been introducing these talks by saying it’s as if he left me a blank mandala and encouraged me to fill it in in my own way, and I have. I hope he would approve. It has been interesting reading Panikkar’s Rhythm of Being simultaneously, in which he is trying to show the universality of the trinity or the triune relationship of Ultimate Reality not just in Christianity but also as it is manifested in many traditions” India, Egypt, the Buddha, Lao Tzu’s heaven, human and earth, ancient Rome, through the Christian writers. Actually he is extending the “privilege of the Trinity to the whole of Reality… The Trinity is not [just] the privilge of the Godhead but the character of reality as a whole.” I have been marking in the margins “the 4th” every time I see him pointing out Bruno’s other movement, the Dance, which is in some way included in Panikkar’s relationship already too. He does mention Jung once in relationship to this: “One might also refer to the hypothesis of the archetypes as C. G. Jung interprets them” who “tended to see the human psyche as a quarternitas because of its apparent balance.” Arcane nonsense, I know, but I love being at least in the shallow end of that particular pool, of this intellectual spiritual legacy, and our oblates Down Under sure appreciated my forays into it all.

At the last session of the retreat Sunday morning I offered my own reflections and a ferverino on the possibilities for our oblate program, how I see the oblates as the outer face of our charism, and how other religious congregations are passing on their charism to lay people and how this ties in with Fr. Bede’s vision of loose knit gatherings of lay communities (one of the main inspirations for the World Community of Christian Meditation, by the way). I told them too about our oblate mentoring program and how important it is to feel part of the larger congregation and our storied history. I also encouraged them to think outside the box, to stay content to be charismatic and outside the institution and traditional religious life, that that is where I see the real excitement happening.

Last night flying and this morning I was really feeling the beginning of the transition back to California. I think I will be ready come next Monday to empty out my backpack and sleep in my own bed again. It’s all very mysterious, the unfolding of life and our vocation, and to see the world again from these various perspectives and discern our individual and collective place in it. I feel more than ever the bond between us all, the common ground that we already share and how small the global village has become––and how symbiotic as well! I find it exhilarating and sobering at the same time. As Parker Plamer says, sometimes it's an act of rebellion just to believe that "there is a hidden wholeness beneath the very evident brokenness of our world."