Some Advent thoughts from Jean Vanier

[these words from Jean Vanier were not particularly addressed to the advent season, but they seemed very relevant to me]

Do we understand God’s vision for humanity or are we just closed up in our own little worlds? Can peace come? Is there hope for Kosovo, Israel, Palestine, Iraq or Northern Ireland? Is there hope in this world where the gap between the rich and the poor is growing daily? Is there hope? Yes, there is hope! There is hope because God is. God is! And though there is the silence of God, there is also the mystery of God working in the hearts of people doing beautiful things. They don’t hit the headlines. The headlines are frequently things of pain – catastrophes, death. We don’t see all the peace-loving people breaking down the barriers to work together and to love each other. All of us can understand the reaction of Peter. Maybe if we found Jesus kneeling at our feet we would react in the same way. We want a big God who fixes our problems. We don’t want a little God saying, ‘I need you and I’ll come and live in you. I’ll give you a new strength, a new spirit and you shall work so people become free and loving and peace-making: We always want a God who is going to fix our problems, but God is saying, ‘I’ll give you the strength so you become one of those who work with others to bring peace to our world.’

– Jean Vanier, Encountering ‘the Other’

Social change and the inner life

In the din of the capitalistic, technological society, which bombs abroad and consumes at home, the basis for a way of liberation can be found in solitude. In solitude, in the depths of a man’s own aloneness, lie the resources for resistance to injustice. Resistance arises first from a perception of man’s suffering and from the assumption of one’s own responsibility to seek the transformation of a murderous system into a human society. The resister recognizes injustice and inhumanity for what they are and concludes, “I am responsible for either condoning their existence or struggling for change.” But for a man to take responsibility in public for his society, he must have the deeper integrity to take responsibility in solitude for his own inner life. Otherwise the only basis for social change will be personal alienation, and one’s act of resistance will be less a response to injustice than a flight from solitude.

– James Douglass, Resistance and Contemplation(1972)

keepsake – a poem by Milton Brasher-Cunningham

[This week, SSU was blessed with a visit from author/chef/blogger, Milton Brasher-Cunningham, who gave a short reading and chat at lunch. This is a poem from his new book, Keeping the Feast]

keepsake

there are some nights
when the sky turns
the color of friendship
and fades into the crisp
darkness of gratitude
we ate with friends
drank and talked as well
and then walked away
dropping bits of hope
like breadcrumbs
along the sidewalks
and silent porches
finding our way home
to our porch light
our beacon of belonging
summer will come
and winter will follow
and footprints will fade
but not this indelible
wisp of memory

by Milton Brasher-Cunningham, from Keeping the Feast

Every real thing is a joy…

[Eating together is a central part of community life at SSU. Here are some thoughts from a master at combining theology and cooking:]

There is a habit that plagues many so-called spiritual minds: they imagine that matter and spirit are somehow at odds with each other and that the right course for human life is to escape from the world of matter into some finer and purer (and undoubtedly duller) realm. To me, that is a crashing mistake – and it is, above all, a theological mistake. Because, in fact, it was God who invented dirt, onions and turnip greens; God who invented human beings, with their strange compulsion to cook their food; God, who, at the end of each day of creation, pronounced a resounding “Good!” over his own concoctions….

Food and cooking, therefore, are not low subjects. In fact there are no low subjects anywhere in the physical universe. Every real thing is a joy, if only you have eyes and ears to relish it, a nose and a tongue to taste it. But more than that, food and cooking are among the richest subjects in the world. Every day of our lives, they preoccupy, delight and refresh us. Food is not just some fuel we need to get us going toward higher things. Cooking is not a drudgery we put up with in order to get the fuel delivered. Rather, each is a heart’s astonishment. Both stop us dead in our tracks with wonder. Even more, they sit us down evening after evening, and in the company that forms around our dinner tables, they actually create our humanity.          – Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb

A couple of interesting stories about monks chanting…

[Here’s a story from a Benedictine monastery worth pondering:]

…chanting was curtailed in the mid-1960s as part of the modernisation efforts associated with the Second Vatican Council. The results could not have been more disastrous. The monks had been able to thrive on only about four hours sleep per night, provided they  were allowed to chant. Now they found themselves listless and exhausted, easily irritated, and susceptible to disease. Several doctors were called in, but none was able to alleviate the distress of the monastic community. Relief came finally, but only when Alfred Tomatis convinced the Abbot to reinstate chanting. As he recalled: ‘I was called in by the Abbot in February, and I found that 70 of the 90 monks were slumping in their cells like wet dishrags… I reintroduced chanting immediately. By November, almost all of them had gone back to their normal activities, that is their prayers, their few hours of sleep, and the legendary Benedictine work schedule.’ The decisive factor, it seems, had been a simple matter of sound.

– Ted Gioia, Healing Songs (2006), quoted in I. McGilchrist, The Master and His Emissary

[and this reminded me of a recent interview with actors from the French movie Of Gods and Men about how they were affected by the many hours of singing as they rehearsed for the film:]

…the actors were progressively transformed by the words and the musical tonality of these songs. Above all, they started to become a community. During the press conference in Cannes, Lambert Wilson expressed it clearly: “Through songs that elevate and unite us, we became brothers”.

The singing scenes also helped give rhythm to the story. They first allow us to see and hear the monastic community during its most frequent and regular activity: the seven daily offices, in other words, four hours of singing a day. “To chant psalms”, confides actor Olivier Rabourdin “is to breathe together, to share the Breath of Life”.

– Henry Quinson, “Monastic Songs”