Sunday, September 5, 2021

sociale evolution and the spiritual fundaments of the participative approach


I'm afraid this may be a bit jumbled but I'll post it anyway in the interest of not getting too far behind...

September 5, 2021

I just moved into the monastery. It was a heck of a day yesterday. Our AI FORA group did meet three times, and of course three meals in the crowded and noisy refectory of the foresteria. Because we needed access to the WiFi we wound up meeting in a hall right next to the busy bar. All in all I kept being reminded just how quiet my life is normally! Even on what feels like a full day in Big Sur I have lots of time on my own and we are never surrounded by as much hustle and bustle. Of course it is summer time and there are so many guests staying here on top of all the weekend tourists who come. Yesterday was also the Day of Prayer for Creation and the monks always celebrate Vespers in the forest up near the Sacro Eremo, from both commubnities and some of the nuns from Poppi as well. So we all hoofed it up there. It was raining off and on all afternoon but three of us decided to take our chances and walk up there in between the raindrops. We made it fine and I was able to give the group a bit of a tour of the Eremo before we walked down the road and out near the little lake where Vespers was set up. Unfortunately, it started to rain again about halfway through, so they decided to cut it short. I was chilled to the bone by the time we got back down the hill (by car this time). I got semi-accosted by a lady from Sicily that Mario has introduced me to. She didn’t believe me that there was a place in Sicily called Bisaquino where my relatives live and assumed I was saying it or spelling it wrong in Italian, and kept switching back in forth from her rudimentary English to what I think was dialect flavored Sicilian. Luckily Federico saw my struggling and came to rescue me but by that time I was having trouble communicating in any language. I escaped to my favorite chapel upstrairs––the chapel of Madonna del Conforto––for a good meditation before dinner and felt much better, which was good because we still had one more closing  session with AI FORA group.

We spent all day talking about Fr Bede. Sr. Moira and Dorathick were online Zoom with us from Germany and India, respectively, which is still pretty amazing when you think about it. Though it was much harder for them to really contribute to the discussion they said they were able to listen to most of it very well. For the first two sessions Petra had done an amazing job putting together a PowerPoint that highlighted social science theories from scientists and philosophers that have influenced her––Hegel, Max Weber and Jürgen Habermas might be the best known names––comparing them to resonances in Bede’s thought “on social evolution and the spiritual fundaments of participative approaches,” as she called it. Petra would present something either from the social sciences of the humanities and then quote at length from Bede’s writings. Here’s a question about a theme that kind of sums it up: “Is the organic model of a network society evolutionary in terms of Sociology?” Of course the words that got my attention were organic and evolutionary.


The theme of Bede’s that I kept returning to was “union by communion,” compared with Abhishiktandanda’s “union by identity,” the former more influenced by the Bhagavad Gita and centered on love and relationship, the latter more by the Upanishads and the unquenchable drive for the experience of advaita as it is traditionally understood. This is also material that I have been exploring a lot myself revisiting Bede in the current writing I am doing anyway, so it’s all fresh in my mind. But the other thing that I kept coming back to was that the reason that we monks were involved had to be more than because the Rule allows a good environment for safe spaces, but because we supposedly explore the dimension needed for the energy to evolve consciousness, that is meditation and prayer. The other dimension that Bede keeps talking about, the spiritual, does not open up for us without that path of transformation. And the new model is not going to be born without something dying––our old way of being in the world, the lifestyles to which we have grown accustomed. And so hand in hand with meditation and prayer comes a certain asceticism, a willingness to be converted. I also brought up Cornel West’s distinction between optimism and hope a few times (again!), suggesting that sociology is optimistic; whereas spirituality is hopeful. Though, at the same time, to quote the great professor, things don’t look too good right now…


There was so much discussed it is impossible for me to give a summary; sorry, I can only give you some highlights of my own contributions (if it even matters!). Needless to say, it was a deep conversation. When we went around the table very last session my summary reflection was that the more we spoke the larger our vision became, as if we were trying to change the world, and the more intimidated I became. How to make this practical in our own safe spaces, the environments that we are tasked with creating for these dialogues to take place? And wondering if these methods really work. With the rise of populism and nationalism, isn’t this just what is being resisted––one world, one religion, peaceful coexistence in the name of protecting our own identity and sovereignty? There are those who want this and those who do not, and those who do not want will not take part anyway so it could be the safe space becomes a meeting of like minds instead of a place of networking and common ground. That’s the optimistic part. And yet, “I’ll die a prisoner of hope,” and I keep saying I want monasticism (and this monk) to be a part of what I refer to as “the Great Conversation,” and this is it.


There are plans for this group to reconvene, maybe in Germany, though they all, especially the Germans, really liked Italy. There was also a suggestion of re-convening in India at Shantivanam. Petra does have a pretty good budget, so my own cost would not be a problem, but the time would be, for sure. So we shall see what happens going forward and how much I can actually be a part of it.


We had Mass together on our own this morning up in the chapel of Our Lady of Comfort that I love so much. Since we were several language groups (though the meetings were in English and everybody outside of Pater Johannes from Nütschau is perfectly comfortable in English), I did not assume that anyone knew any of the responses in English, so I told them all to reply in whatever language they wanted. Don’t tell any liturgists or Church Officials (stet) but they decided that, instead of doing today’s assigned readings, they wanted to do a group lectio on John 3:1-15 today, Nicodemus coming to Jesus at night and ‘you must be born again.’ I actually wrote a reflection on that in The God Who Gave You Birth, so I was prepared! When we got to the Our Father, we sang it: I gave each language group a note forming a major chord and told them to chant recto tono on that note (with some improvisation of course). That hasn’t always worked in the past but this group was singers and willing to try new things (since we had all been dancing together and done other icebreakers together last week in Germany). It was pretty cool. Today was actually the birthday of Fr. Manel, the Spanish monk of Monteserrat, so we celebrated him by learning (kind of) a short German song that has each voice SATB singing a different text with its own melody. It was a well-intentioned car wreck, especially on my part since I couldn’t read Petra’s handwriting of the German words, but we had a laugh and a hug afterwards. Then Jeremias and I walked them to their van (he is staying on up at the Eremo for a few weeks) and waved them goodbye.


I’ve moved into the monastery now, and it is a much different environment to say the least, quiet and sweet. The sun came out and it has been a gorgeous cloudless Tuscan sky all day so far. The community is not eating at tables in the refectory but since the pandemic they are spaced around the room at the old-fashioned chair stall set-up, which is kind of fun. I had a brand-new kind of pasta, of which I cannot remember the name, thin light pasta square folded into a triangle stuffed with ricotta and spinach covered with a creamy mushroom sauce. I am trying hard to watch my intake because it is so easy to overeat in this environment with all the pasta, formaggi e dolci


I am also here unofficially as a visitator, and most of the community knows that. I’ve already had a couple of good talks with some of the brothers. Mario Zanotti, partner visitator, who is well known to our community at Big Sur is also here, and he and I will have a meeting with General’s Council tomorrow (though no one seems to know what time that is). I will stay here until Thursday and then spend a few days up at the Eremo, for which we are also visitators. We both think that just coming after six years, before the General Chapter in 2023 would not be enough. As I said to Giuseppe, former vice-prior here and also well-known in Big Sur, it’s good to palpare il polso della comunità–feel the pulse of the community.


I also had another interesting encounter this afternoon. The woman who translated my book Prayer in the Cave of the Heart into Italian was here this afternoon, Antonia Tronti. We had never officially met. So that was fun to walk and talk with her. Interesting to find out that she translates from English, beautifully, but does not speak English!


And now I am also doing my laundry, something one does a mother’s house. Bouna sera, tutti!