Archive for August, 2013

Weingarten Abbey

Weingarten Abbey

A Megastore for Monks

You’re forgiven if you missed the page-one headline in The Wall Street Journal on July 23rd.  “Megastore for Thai Monks Brings One-Stop Retail to Buddhism.”  That’s not the sort of thing that rivets the attention of your average K-Mart shopper, nor your Bloomingdale’s aficionado, for that matter.  In fact, most people couldn’t care less.  But for monks it was big news.

I was more than a little amazed by the description of this thing.  Sitting on a plot of nearly a quarter million square feet,  you can find in this emporium any and everything you could possibly need to be a Buddhist monk.  From candles to begging bowls to statues of the Buddha (sitting or standing) to a huge assortment of saffron robes, it’s all there.  Not only can you be assured of one-stop shopping, but you can do it in air-conditioned comfort as well.  I’ve never been to Thailand, but I gather that air-conditioning draws shoppers by the trainload.

The scale of this store is breathtaking, and I can assert without fear of contradiction that there’s nothing like it for American monks.  I’m not even going to waste my time by rushing to Walmart to ask about their monk department.  The knowledgeable clerks will apologize that they don’t have one.  Those less attuned will answer simply: “I’m sorry sir, but we don’t carry monks during the summer months.”  But if Walmart and the other big-box stores don’t carry monk stuff, then who does?  Well, I can tell you who does: no one does.

imageI’m not going to fault American retailers for missing out on a lucrative market, because it’s important to understand one thing about Buddhist monasticism in Thailand.  It’s big.  Really big.  There are some 300,000 monks in Thailand, and last  year there were 60,000 novice monks.  That dwarfs any membership figures we’ve seen in the Catholic Church since the middle ages.  But the key difference is the commitment that novices make in Thailand.  Most stay only a short time, and then it’s back to jeans and t-shirts.  But they return home spiritually refreshed.

Those newcomers arrive at the gates en masse.  The guy who opened the megastore did so after going out to buy robes for the ninety-nine poor novices he was sponsoring.  He discovered that the neighborhood monk stores were not at all prepared to deal with such volume.  And so he adapted the concept of mass-merchandising to create a store that catered to the needs of the mobs of people who need monk stuff, and need it in a hurry.  Thailand clearly is one of the few places on the planet where this business plan was ripe for success.

imageNone of this would work in America, simply because there is no market.  It’s not that there are no monks.  It’s just that we don’t get 60,000 novices a year.  And it’s not that God doesn’t call people to the monastic life in the United States.  It’s just that God doesn’t seem to call them in herds.  We get called by name, one at a time.  And we enter in the hope that this will lead to a lifetime commitment.  No wonder people are a little shy about coming in droves.  But translated into economic terms, this is a market for a handful of mom-and-pop shops around the country, but certainly not for Macy’s.

That said, there likely are many values that Buddhist and Christian monks share, despite the obvious differences.  As The Wall Street Journal noted about Thai monks, “all of them need stuff.”  The same is true for American monks.  And it was true as well for sixth-century monks, as Saint Benedict was careful to point out.  In fact, compared to some of his more abstemious contemporaries, Benedict was pretty open-minded.  Monks need a habit and footwear, and in winter they need warmer clothes, at least in places like Minnesota.  Monks need slightly better clothing when they go out on a journey, wrote Benedict.  Apparently he too worried about what the neighbors might say if monks went out poorly clad.  And monks need pens and parchment and books and all the other stuff that people need to get by on.

imageInterestingly, Benedict allows more to those who need more, but he doesn’t scold them for it.  Conversely, if a monk can get by on less, great.  But don’t for a minute think you’re a better monk because you can make do with less than what your brother needs.

Therein lurks one of the many challenges in monastic life.  I’ve seen monks’ rooms where the spare interior left me wondering if anyone lived there.  I’ve also passed rooms where stuff was starting to block the door.  All I can say for myself is that these are the extremes that I try to avoid.  Saint Benedict advises that monks should do all things in moderation; and “too much” and “too little” strike me as wildly immoderate.  I prefer to stick to living in a rigidly flexible moderation.

All of this brings us around to the importance of good judgment when it comes to the monastic life.  It would be so convenient if the abbot told us exactly how much was too much or too little; but every monk I know would rebel the minute the abbot tried to do so.  Aware of that tendency, Saint Benedict places the burden of good judgment squarely on the shoulders of the individual monk.  He cannot cede to someone else the responsibility for his own life, because it was God who called him in the first place.  And the monk must make his own response.

imageI would submit that lifestyle is one area in which monks, whether Buddhist or Christian, have the chance to live a prophetic life in the 21st century.  In Benedict’s day, monks may have had one habit, or two at most.  But most other people also had one or at most two sets of clothes.  Today, when freighters can’t deliver clothes and consumer goods fast enough, monks have a chance to stand back and say to themselves: “Enough already.”  Besides, the abbot’s not going to give us a second room to hold it all anyway.

But the issue of “too much stuff” is one that confronts us all, whatever our state in life.  I’ll admit to the value of the big-box stores, not only for good prices but for their infinite variety.  But as symbols of the ultimate value of material goods, such stores can easily morph into temples to a false god.

You and I are far more important than any of the stuff we own.  And if that stuff has begun to take over our lives, then it may be time to reconsider Saint Benedict’s teaching on moderation.  As for our Thai monk-brethren, I’m happy they have a megastore to suit their needs.  Good for them.  As for us American monks, we’ll get over it.


+On August 23rd I preached at the Abbey Mass at Saint John’s.  The first reading came from the Book of Ruth, and in The Story of Ruth I offer a few comments on this exceptional person.

+On Sunday, August 25th, I again presided at the Abbey Mass.  Our returning students augmented our late summer numbers, and it was nice to hear many more voices join in the singing.  The text of the sermon, Are We Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God?, can be found in Presentations.

+On August 22nd 515 freshmen began their college experience at Saint John’s University, and on the 23rd they joined the monastic community at evening prayer.  Abbot John spoke to the students and welcomed them on behalf of the monks, and following vespers the students joined individual monks in small-group sessions.  There they “met a monk” and learned a bit about the monastery and the Benedictine tradition at Saint John’s.

image+On Sunday August 11th, I and a group of fellow travelers visited the abbey of Weingarten, in southern Germany.  I was privileged to concelebrate at the Mass, and afterwards the pastor gave us a tour of the church, as well as a visit to the organ loft.

Weingarten was founded as a Benedictine abbey in the 11th century, and in 1802, during the Napoleonic wars, it was closed and the buildings left to decay.  In 1922 a small community of monks refounded it, but their efforts came to naught and three years ago it closed once again.

imageWeingarten is an extraordinary place, with wonderful frescoes and a feeling of ample space.  But from my point of view the star of this rococo bonanza is the organ, built by Joseph Gabler in the years 1737-1750.  His challenge was to build an instrument that did not block the light streaming in from the windows behind the pipes.  He succeeded magnificently, and his design included the novel placement of the console.  From the bench at the keys, the organist looks out over the loft and directly at the altar.  The pictures in today’s post all come from Weingarten, and for a selection of music from the organ, you can visit this link.

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imageReichenau: Cradle of Western Culture

The abbey of Reichenau means little or nothing to most people.  But to students of medieval and monastic history it evokes all sorts of images.  Founded in 724 by Pirmin, the abbey initially followed a mix of Irish and Benedictine monastic rules and customs.  Then, after the Synod of Aachen in 817, it switched to the Rule of Saint Benedict exclusively, as did every other monastery in the Carolingian Empire.

Reichenau sits on a small island in Lake Constance, and from its shores you can gaze out at the confluence of modern Germany, Austria and Switzerland.  It’s a gorgeous spot, and though the island is only 2.8 by .9 miles, the monks managed to find the space to build some twenty churches and chapels, as well as plant gardens and vineyards that serve up produce to this day.

Modern guide books speak of it as a “cradle of Western culture,” and this is not to take away from the Irish who allegedly saved civilization.  The Irish influence was strong here, and in the tenth and eleventh centuries Reichenau was a center of art, music, liturgy and book production.  Its manuscripts were the finest north of the Alps, and the 10th-century wall paintings of the church of Saint George mirror some of the illuminations of the manuscripts that were made just a few yards away.

Church of Saint George, 10th c.

Church of Saint George, 10th c.

I was fortunate to visit Reichenau recently, in the company of a group that included members of the Order of Malta as well as several other friends.  In the course of a day we toured the island, and while cars abound, the place retains the serenity that the monastic island has always had.  All the space that is not devoted to housing or commercial use is cultivated to produce fruit and vegetables.  Greenhouses abound, and they enclose overburdened tomato plants by the acre.  And it’s incredibly peaceful, as befits a monastic island.  And for that reason the entire island became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2000.

imageReichenau may have been a vibrant monastic center for nearly three hundred years, but the centuries were not kind.  By the 16th century only a handful of monks remained; and in 1757 the bishop of Constance banished the last of the monks, due to “stubbornness.”  But the monastic tradition is a bit like a weed.  It is hard to eradicate, and just when you nod off it  sprouts again in the garden.  And so in 2003 a small cell of monks returned to re-colonize the abbey, and today the monks recite the liturgy of the hours and provide pastoral service to the neighbors.  Happily, as in the case of many monasteries today, the monks don’t pray alone.  Once again it serves as a center of local spirituality, and many of the neighbors join the monks in daily prayer.

I did not mean to provide a history lesson, but I do find a visit to a place like Reichenau to be personally moving.  For one thing, I realize once again that it is possible for a place to acquire a sacred character, and one sees this at Reichenau.  For 1300 years people have sought God there — even during the times when the monks were absent.  Today, as in its early days, nothing seems hurried.  And if not all the residents visit the abbey church for prayer, they till the soil with the same loving care that the monks showed when they cleared the brambles and thinned the forest in the 8th century.

Abbey church, apse

Abbey church, apse

What also  struck me were the 10th-century frescoes in the chapel of Saint George.  They depict eight miracles of Jesus, and they parallel illuminations produced in the abbey scriptorium during those same years.  What’s inspiring is this:  the frescoes were meant to teach and to provide points for meditation — especially for those who could not read.  More particularly, they depict Gospel passages that inspire Christians both then and now.  In that respect they suggest that we share a communion with those who gazed on them centuries ago.  As much as we might think we are so advanced, our daily challenges have really changed very little despite the passage of time.  We should not be surprised to learn that illness and disasters and lack of faith beset people in the late 900’s, just as they do today.  Yet, the message of the Gospel is the same then and now.  Jesus conquers death and is lord of life.

Abbey church, west end

Abbey church, west end

Finally, the historian in me is quick to point out that humans haven’t really changed all that much in the last 20,000 years.  We all have our good days and our bad days, and we all have our moments when we feel unappreciated.  There’s a passage, written by an 8th-century scribe at Reichenau, that hints of this.  “O happiest of readers, wash your hands and grasp the book, turn the pages gently, hold your fingers far from the letters.  He, who does not know how to write, does not believe that this is work.  O how difficult writing is: it clouds the eyes, squeezes the kidneys and at the same time brings agony to all members.  Three fingers write, the entire body suffers….”  It’s the 8th-century version of “Hey, I worked my fingers to the bone to write this thing.  Now don’t mess it up.  And I’d appreciate some thanks once in a while.”

Abbey church, side aisle

Abbey church, side aisle

It’s a little humbling to look upon something that has lasted for nearly 1300 years.  Despite our self-perceived sense of superiority, we all should ask what we will leave behind that will last for a thousand years.  Certainly it will not be the appliances and other junk that we will accumulate.  Soon enough most of that will make its way to the recycling center.  Perhaps what has the best chance for survival is the faith that we have received and which has taken root in the garden of our daily lives.  That, it seems to me, would be a wonderful legacy for the next generation.  That, after all, is the meaning of tradition.  We have received, and what we receive we pass on.  But to it we add something of ourselves.  Perhaps that is what Jesus meant when he spoke the parable of the talents.  He gives talents to all of us, and we should never bury them.  If we are good tillers of our own soil, then we will bear a ton of fruit and vegetables — more than enough to share.


image+Exactly four days after landing at Amsterdam, I arrived on bicycle at Reichenau.  Naturally you would assume that I biked all the way from Holland to the Austrian border, but it would be wrong of me to leave the impression that I did that.  I didn’t.  In fact, I only rode the last bit on bike, and I did so in the company of seventeen fellow riders.  It was great fun as we explored Reichenau, and no one got hurt.  The only mishap was when one rider did a slow-motion careen into my bike.  Thankfully, not even our feelings were hurt, though we did not appreciate the laughter from our colleagues.

+Archeologists are in the process of uncovering and restoring the hospital that forerunners of the Knights of Malta established in Jerusalem in the late 11th century.  It was never really lost, but most people were unaware of its existence until the current owner sought a permit to open a restaurant in it.  The story is recounted by Catholic News Service in this article.

It makes you wonder what else is out there, waiting to be uncovered.

+Among the many talented monks at Reichenau was Hermannus Contractus, who composed one of my favorite pieces of chant.  He lived from 1013 to 1054, and I find his rendition of the Salve Regina to be sparingly beautiful.  This performance is by David James of The Hilliard Ensemble, and the three and a half minutes well reward the listener.  It is a wonderful musical meditation.

Abbey church, choir

Abbey church, choir

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imageHear God Locally

Travel does strange things to people.  Of course it broadens our horizons.  We meet new and interesting people.  We see things that amaze us.  And we discover that people who live in remote and isolated places like New York and Los Angeles also lead happy and productive lives.  Who would have thought.

But travel rarely leaves us unchanged.  In fact, there’s an intensity that comes with a change of scenery that makes such days so different from others in our routine.  On travel days things get seared into our memories, and they assume an importance that makes other days pale in comparison.  So it is that from ages ago we can recall a single day in Omaha, as if it were yesterday.  Meanwhile, entire years become a blur.

Last Tuesday was one of those days.  I rarely get the chance to drive along the Mississippi between Minnesota and Wisconsin, but I always relish the opportunity.  It’s among the most beautiful stretches of scenery in the Midwest.  For miles you can follow the river as it cuts its way between the high bluffs that flank it.  With its barges that work their way up and downriver, and with the trains that run on either bank, it has the feel of the Rhine.  And so the prospect of driving from Saint Paul to Winona, and back, lifted my spirits.

imageThe trip down was uneventful enough, save that the views lived up to the expectations.  A few clouds dotted the sunny skies, and together they framed the scenery to best advantage.  And the traffic was minimal.  It was a great day to enjoy a perfect route.

I expected the return to Saint Paul to be nice as well, even if it was via the inland route by way of Rochester.  Many times I had enjoyed the slow climb that the road takes to reach the top of the bluffs west of Winona.  Along the way you pass through quiet towns which seem to have stood still since the 1950’s.  In fact, in one town I thought I had stumbled into a Hollywood set.  As I slowly passed through, kids played softball in a park.  Others sat in two’s and three’s on benches, chatting and eating ice cream.  I could hardly believe it as I gazed on  young couples strolling arm in arm down the shady streets.  There were no fast food joints nor other signs of the prosperity that has destroyed many an American town.  What these people seemed to lack in material wealth they more than made up for in apparent happiness.  But it wasn’t my town, and I drove on.

imageOnce out of the hills, you climb onto the plain and some of the richest farmland in America.  In the waning daylight the industrial-sized stands of corn stretched out for miles.  There was not a farmhouse nor human to be seen.  But the rows of corn that reach forever testify to the organization that we’ve stamped onto our landscape.  It’s hauntingly beautiful, and lonely at the same time.  It’s a great place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there.

The weather service had warned of storms to the north, and as I turned from Rochester toward Saint Paul I could see them in the distance.  They looked fierce, but I hoped I might be able to skirt them as they pounded their way into Wisconsin.  But it was not to be.

Twenty miles from Saint Paul my luck ran out.  The rains came, and gone was my pleasant evening drive through the country.  This was no gentle storm, and hard rain in the twilight is a challenge.  But this section of Highway 52 had just received a new coat of asphalt.  So fresh was it, that there were no lane stripes, save rather short hash marks in the middle.  In the rain, in the darkness, this was scary stuff.  Then came the hail, and lots of it.

imageThe hail was so thick that even the most insane drivers had to pull to the side of the road.  Even the semi’s, those dreadnoughts of the road, feared to go on.  And so there we sat, and there we waited.  Stretching out ahead of me was a long line of brake lights, but how far I could only guess.

Eventually the hail stopped, and it did so as quickly as it had started.  It was almost as if someone had flicked the switch to off.  And there it was: the winter landscape we’d not seen since April.  In the faint light the sides of the road looked full with snow, and the road itself had a thick layer of ice pebbles.  It was tough to drive on and crunchy to hear; and being summer, the hot road-bed sent up clouds of steam to make it a real challenge to pick your way along the road.  But worse still, now no one knew for sure where the road-bed was at all.  Your life depended on following the tracks left by the cars in front of you.  You dared not fall behind.

This was a true white-knuckle drive.  That evening most of us, if not all of us, became kindred spirits to Martin Luther, who had also found himself on the road in the middle of a storm.  With no convenience store to pull into, and in a panic, Luther invoked the aid of Saint Anne, and he sealed his bargain with a promise to become a monk.

imageThat night on Highway 52 many of us made bargains with God.  As is usual in such cases, God seemed to hold the winning hand, and we knew it.  So I’m guessing that drivers that night were willing to promise pretty much anything under the sun.  But since this stretch of 52 is lined with Lutheran towns, I suspect few vowed to become monks.  And I didn’t care to stop and ask.  But deals were struck and we’ll never know how or when God will come to collect on the winnings.

In the Old Testament we read of the prophet hearing the voice of God in the gentle breeze.  On Highway 52 people thought they also heard the voice of God in the hail.  But as different as both cases might seem, each is consistent with Saint Benedict’s advice to look for God in the simplest of things.  It’s in these that God speaks to us most eloquently, Benedict writes.

So what did I hear God saying to me last Tuesday in the hail on Highway 52?  First, God seemed to be suggesting that you don’t need to go to Paris or Tehran for a life-changing experience.  You can find such an experience quite close to home, including on a highway through the farmland of Minnesota.

imageSecond, don’t make vows that are impossible to keep.  Since I was already a monk, I could not duplicate Martin Luther’s promise to Saint Anne on that stormy night in Saxony.  But I didn’t rashly promise to be a perfect monk either.  I may not be overly bright, but I’m not stupid.  Instead, I vowed to be a slightly better monk, insofar as I am able.  God, having dealt with attorneys through the centuries, understands that kind of language.  And while God’s not getting the moon, at least there’s hope for incremental improvement in the petitioner.

Finally, it’s not always the big bomb-shells that create the lasting memories.  Hail may not be a big deal when compared to a show on Broadway, but if I can remember and write about it even five days later, then it says a lot.  If I can make a mountain out of a mole-hill of hail, so can you.

This August, see America — or your local version of it — first.  You might be surprised at what you’ve been missing, and you might find God right in your neighborhood.  And who knows what God will have to say to  you.  But give God a chance.


+On August 5th I revisited the dentist to finish work on a new crown.  The installation went so quickly that there was no chance to fall asleep this time around.

+On August 6th I spoke at a luncheon for members of the class of ’64 of Saint John’s University, held in Edina, MN.  Later that afternoon I drove to Winona, MN, where I attended the opening of an exhibit on The Saint John’s Bible, presented at the Minnesota Maritime Museum.

+Recently the Abbey completed the redesign of its homepage, which you can visit at http://www.saintjohnsabbey.org.

image+In the course of the summer those who have walked through the hall outside the chapter house have enjoyed an exhibit of paintings by our confrere, Fr. Jerome Tupa. The paintings narrate his pilgrimage to Jerusalem in 2005, and the large and bright canvasses fill the space beautifully.

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The Paper Chase

imageI’ve often bemoaned the Niagara of books and  journals and junk mail that’s besieged me through the years.  Only constant vigilance and an occasional drastic measure have kept me from being edged out of my room, to say nothing of the office.  But I have to own up to the fact that much of this is my own fault.  I love books.  I enjoy magazines and periodicals.  And a stationery store that features fine Italian card stock sends me over the top.

So you can imagine my ambivalence when a couple recently made me the proud owner of a book with the seductive title “Paper: An Elegy.”  It’s not a book I would have bought, but a title like that is hard to resist.  I could not leave it an orphan, unread, in some hotel room, because this book was right up my alley.  But of course this was no random selection, and the donors knew that.

In this short and nicely-printed tome, author Ian Sansom writes less about the technology of making paper, and instead devotes his prose to the cultural impact that paper has had through the centuries.  Paper is definitely one of those things we take for granted.  Yet, as Sansom demonstrates, it is omnipresent.  It turns up not only in the things we touch but in our very language and habits.

imageThe widespread use of paper was both the product of social change as well as the catalyst for social change.  In the medieval West, parchment (animal skin) was the medium of choice for manuscripts.  But paper and printing became not only the solution to the demands of rising literacy rates, but they accelerated those literacy rates.  Though some purists may have hated the new medium, there was no turning back.  And the Gutenberg Bible was but one example of this cultural shift.  For those who preferred the old and elegant ways, there were sets printed on vellum.  For those who welcomed the new technology, there was paper.  But despite any lingering nostalgia for kinder and gentler days, paper was the wave of the future.

Since then paper has had an impact far out of proportion to the cost of making it.  Thankfully, a hundred dollar bill is still not worth the paper it is printed on.  Paper has become art and sculpture and clothing.  Paper has been fashioned into dolls and puzzles and other playthings.  And paperbacks became an economic force that changed publishing, until the electronic book showed up.

The very word paper, embedded in our language, can be confusing in its meaning.  “To deliver a paper” can recall a youngster tossing the morning news into the bushes in front of  your house; or a scholar standing at a podium droning on to a room filled with dozing colleagues.  To “do paperwork” evokes an office-worker mired in stacks of letters and memos, though as often as not we do paperwork electronically these days.  That evolution is reminiscent of the changes in clerical work.  I’m one of the few clerics I know who still does traditional clerical work.  Strangely enough, most clerics I know think it means “pastoral work”, to the near total neglect of real clerical work.

imageOne of the best features of Sansom’s book is the variety of topics to be addressed in its chapters and sections.  This makes it ideal for plane-rides and short snippets of reading at home.  It also increases the likelihood that you will find something of special interest.  In my own case there was nothing that even hinted that chapter 7, “Constructive Thinking”, would deal with the Bauhaus, a design school located in Dessau in Germany.  But Sansom opens the chapter with Josef Albers standing in front of a class of budding architects, asking them to design something with a piece of paper.  Most of us think of paper as two-sided, when in fact an 8×11 piece of paper has six sides.  Albers encouraged his students to use the often-neglected four edges, and in the process he pushed the envelope of their creativity.

Albers may not ring any bells for most people, but at Saint John’s he left his own creative imprint in the form of stained glass.  His colored-glass skylights adorn the roof of the Abbey chapter house.  Yellow and orange windows fill the lantern of the Abbey church with golden light that is especially welcome in mid-winter.  And a lovely grey and white window faces out from the Bishop’s Suite in the monastery.  Architect Marcel Breuer, who also studied at the Bauhaus, had pegged Albers to build the giant north window of the Abbey church.  Sadly, it never got translated into reality, though his design would have transformed the interior of the church with its golden hue.  Happily, his plans for the huge window still exist, in case we ever decide to revisit the issue.

imageIn the monastic tradition, paper has had an impact that we often overlook.  In the heyday of expensive vellum books, it was far cheaper to have one giant book from which several monks could chant.  Individual books were far too expensive, and so monks shared books and memorized prayers.  Not so during the last five hundred years, when communities could finally afford to supply each monk with the books necessary for choir.  With that came the gradual disappearance of the giant stands that held the giant books.  And if they still stand in sanctuaries, they stand unused except by the occasional reader.

Abbey of San Giorgio, Venice

Abbey of San Giorgio, Venice

Sansom’s book is filled with interesting detail that rewards the reader, and his occasional sidebars can entertain.  For one, he writes of the persistence of cigarettes rolled in paper.  “Nothing says ‘I’m a despairing intellectual’ like sucking on flaming paper,” he notes archly.  But left unaddressed is the failed prediction that the computer would lead to the paperless office.  Far from it.  Just ask the makers of filing cabinets and printers and storage facilities.  And architects must now calculate the added weight of massive amounts of paper in their buildings.  It is not insignificant.

As for me, paper is as important as ever.  For one thing, nothing incites writer’s block quite like a blank yellow pad of paper staring up at me from my desk.  On the other hand, I can write quickly and endlessly on an iPad, but the overabundance of verbage is just too much.  And nothing brings out the creativity quite like paper.  A first draft of pen on paper is agony.  A second and even a third draft are ecstasy.  Turning it into electronic images on a  screen is icing on the cake.  But I always allow myself the comfort of a paper copy when it’s all over.  It’s such a satisfying object to behold, even if it does add to the mountain on my desk.

Virgin with Child, reading. 1543.  Cluny Museum, Paris.

Virgin with Child, reading. 1543. Cluny Museum, Paris.


+On August 3rd we celebrated the Mass of Christian Burial for our confrere, Fr. Alexander Andrews.  Fr. Alex was born in Chicago and attended the University of Illinois before serving four years in the military.  He then went on to receive an MA in history at Columbia University, and still later studied Russian and Eastern European history at Berkeley.  As a monk he taught in the history department at Saint John’s University, and he was one of those teachers that people never forgot.  Both in the monastery and outside Fr. Alex was known as a real character, and we will miss his wit and good nature.

+A recent article in the Minneapolis Star Tribune detailed the resurgence of the Canada goose population in Minnesota during the past fifty years.  In that time they’ve rebounded to the point at which they’ve become pests.  And while they may be graceful and beautiful, their gifts on the lawn leave a bit to be desired.

imageWe’ve shared in this abundance at Saint John’s, though numbers in their favorite gathering space are down considerably this year.  Dozens of them would congregate  on summer evenings on the narrow strip of land between Gemini Lakes.  There they warmed their feet on the pavement of the entry road into Saint John’s, spending their time and energy hissing at oncoming traffic.  It was generally their last hiss, since they forced drivers to choose between hitting the geese or careening off into one of the lakes.  That was when I began to understand what people meant when they pointed out that so-and-so “didn’t have the good sense that God gave geese.”

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