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Posts Tagged ‘Tabga’

John the Baptist: The Great Hall

Prepare Ye a Way to the Mall

For logic-choppers like myself, Saturday’s internet ad was a real teaser:  “Last few days of Black Friday Weekend Specials.”  What?  Who wrote this logical conundrum?

Did this start as a one-day sale that had spun out of control?  And since when did Saturday begin to count among the “last few days” of a weekend? Did the  weekend get bigger while I wasn’t looking?  I used to imagine that Saturday was the first day of the weekend; but I’m willing to concede that it could count as the second day of Black Friday weekend.  Still, it’s a big stretch to allow it to be one of the “last few days” of the weekend.  Just how long has this weekend become?  And will the sale go beyond even that?  And who decided all this?

Abbey garden

I can recall a time when this season was a lot simpler.  The clarion call to shop was far less brazen, while the options were a little more manageable.  For me those times were epitomized by The New Yorker Magazine — back when it had a style that seems to have slipped away.

In its heyday, The New Yorker’s bloated post-Thanksgiving issues touted a dazzling array of luxury goods.  The fact that its treasures were financially and geographically beyond the reach of your average monk didn’t matter.  You might not be able to acquire, but at least you could still covet.  And who wouldn’t want a stunningly sleek motorcar or gold watches for both wrists or kilograms of diamonds?  So what if I didn’t really need these things.  It was the thought that counted; and every Advent I gazed in wonder at the tempting spread before me.  It was my own version of Satan’s temptation of Jesus — offering the whole world in return for worship.  But for me, it was structly mental.  All this should be mine, even if it couldn’t actualy be mine.

I long ago realized that my room might be big enough to hold several kilograms of diamonds and a cartload of gold watches, but I really didn’t need them.  Still, the exercise of reviewing the options had become an important annual ritual.  Each Advent the growing avalanche of gift catalogs made me aware of the fundamental choice I had to keep making each day of the year.  Was it going to be simplicity, or was it going to be a total letting go to commercialism?  Which would be my path in life?

In more recent years I’ve come to realize how glitzy and shallow this time of year has become. Certainly there’s an element of nostalgia that warms the heart, but there’s also a side that suggests that this is Mardi Gras gone wild.  It’s become an extended binge of consumption, and it’s as much about getting in on a bargain as it is about not wanting to miss out on a bargain.  One wonders whether people even know what’s in the big boxes that they tote out of the big boxes.  And perhaps in a season of thoughtless overindulgence, it doesn’t really matter.  What matters most is the amassing of goods — so-called.  Never mind that there will be a double-edged hangover.  One must eventually pay for it all, and find a place to put it all.

I don’t want to sound like some sort of grinch, since gift-giving can be an expression of much deeper sentiment.  Still, I’d like to give Saint John the Baptist his annual due.  I know good and well that he’s swimming upstream against a storm surge of products, but I’d like to remind myself that he presents to Christians a vision of an alternative reality.  Even if one is not a believer, there’s something to be said for his message.  In his appeal there’s a little bit of the “wake up and get real” and “get a grip on yourself.”  Actually, there’s quite a lot of that, because that’s the first major point of his message.  “Before it’s too late, consider where you’re going with your life.”  As you stampede through the commercial temples, consider your priorities.  Is this what your life is all about?

“Prepare a path for the Lord” is a not-so-bad reminder that sooner or later we each have to make those ultimate decisions about our character.  Is my purpose in life to be a good consumer? Do I let the trendsetters decide what’s right for me?  Do I really want to abdicate all responsibility for shaping my future?  Will I go with the flow and expect that it’s all going to turn out wonderfully?

Or will I consciously choose some direction for myself?  Will I decide that there is another dimension to me?  Does my own moral fiber matter after all — even if no one else is looking or seems to care?

For better and for worse, John the Baptist is going to nag us about this throughout the Advent season.  Of course he doesn’t have an advertizing manager, but he doesn’t really need one.  All we need do is think of him just once in a while, perhaps when we see an offer that is almost irresistible.  Perhaps when you’re just about to sign for that bucket of diamonds you can catch yourself and recall that you are worth more than an entire diamond mine.  As Jesus reminds us — and as we often forget — are we not worth more than even a sparrow?  I think so.

This year we will buy and give gifts of all sorts.  But if we can add one conscious element to the process, we might be the better for it.  For every tangible gift, present it in an intangible wrapping such as love or respect or affection.  Let that gift reflect the reality of who we are.  We, and the world, might be just a bit better because of it.

Saint Benedict and the snow

+Personal Notes

Over the Thanksgiving holidays I managed to go five days without getting into a car.  While in no way did this constitute any kind of a record for me, it was terrific to stay put at the Abbey.

What do monks do on Thanksgiving?  Well, at Saint John’s we celebrate the Eucharist at 11 am.  This year I was the primary celebrant at the Mass, which means that I had the honor of preaching.  My sense is that the sermon did not spoil the festive meal which followed.

Our Thanksgiving lunch is one every  American would recognize.  Our major differenc from routine is that the pie-makers in the community customarily prepare these delights, which we take with coffee in the lower-level recreation room of the monastery.

Thanksgiving presented quite a contrast in weather, as all Minnesotans realize that it can.  It is on the cusp of seasonal change, and in the morning a clutch of monks went out for a group run, with most wearing light jackets and one of them wearing shorts.  By 2 pm it had become a different world.  I and another monk had planned a walk, and at 1:59 pm we stepped out the door.  One minute later a burst of snowflakes made visibility beautiful but poor, and by 2:15 we were back inside.  By the next day there was a blanket of snow, and the lakes had begun to freeze over.

On Sunday, November 25th, I and two colleagues drove to Duluth to attend the diaconal ordination of Saint John’s University alumnus Tim Egan.  Tim recently retired from his practice as a psychiatrist, and in August I gave a five-day retreat at the Abbey guesthouse for him and his four fellow deacons-to-be from the Diocese of Duluth.  The ordination in the Cathedral in Duluth was a fine afternoon, made even better by the chance to visit with several friends at the reception that followed.

Tabga: courthard

+Benedictine Volunteers: Tabga

For several years Saint John’s Abbey has sponsored a volunteer program for graduating seniors of Saint John’s University.  Made possible through the generosity of many friends of the Abbey, as well as by our own investment of time and energy, these alumni spend a year at Benedictine communities around the world.  They live and pray with the local community and help with their work in any way they can.

The recent turmoil in the Holy Land has caused us to pray in particular for our two volunteers at Tabga, on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.  By tradition this is the site of the feeding of the five thousand, and elements of a Byzantine basilica remain, incluidng one lovely floor mosaic.  Today a group of Benedictines from Dormition Abbey in Jerusalem staff the small community, and our two volunteers assist with the flood of pilgrims that visit.  Happily, they have been in no real danger at Tabga, due to its remote location.  But it has been good for us to remember them in prayer.

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