We put my father’s ashes in the columbarium two days before my 35th birthday.

Dad would have laughed to see a small crowd of monks gathered around, saying prayers for him, commending his remains to their final rest until the Last Great Day.

I don’t know that he even believed in a Last Great Day. Like any Irish boy from Bayonne, he’d been raised Catholic. It didn’t stick. He was your typical free spirit—untethered and unmoored. He never went in much for obligation, never wanted to be tied down.

A week before he died, I got a text from his sister telling me he was fading. I was in Ireland, having led a knitting retreat for 20 women from all over the world. My dad was in Portland, dying of metastatic cancer so diffuse within him by the time they caught it that they couldn’t figure out where it started. Judy never called or texted. I knew it was important, so I called immediately.

My dad’s voice was breathy and heavy.

“Son, do you think Jesus forgives me?”

Continue reading “fatherlove”

give me Jesus

This last week was a challenge. Walking with a friend, I tried to explain away the difficulty of the week in terms of my schedule. It’s true that my days were more fully booked than I’m now used to or prefer. But the week’s challenge really arose from the traffic between my ears.

It was one of those weeks where my habitual faultlines began to show on the surface. I kept getting caught up in my own inner patterns. I could see it all as it was happening, but I couldn’t manage to escape the tentacles of my mental and spiritual habits. Even my sleep became a challenge, so that at the end of days spent wrestling with myself, I couldn’t get the rest I really needed.

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hidden with Christ in God

After reading a draft of my memoir a few weeks ago, one of my brothers asked if I intended to publish it. My first response was an immediate “of course!” What’s the point of writing if no one is going to see it? I set my quick response aside, though, and decided to take his question seriously.

I initially wrote this book three years ago. I couldn’t manage to finish it, so I set it aside. I only came back to it a few months ago, because I felt God calling me to do so. I’ve finished this second draft as a matter of faithfulness. If I’m to continue it that way, then I have to be honest that, though God may have called me to write it, I’m not at all clear that God is calling me to publish it. Hence taking seriously my brother’s question.

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a little life

I have just finished writing a book. To be more accurate, I have finished a rough draft of a book. It’s a spiritual memoir that traces the the thread of early losses, the way they hollowed me, and the way God entered my hollowness and pulled me into monastic life.

I’ve now written this book twice. The first time I wrote it as a therapeutic experience. I needed to see the loss, to feel its contours, to know that it was real. Then my father died. During his last year, my heart opened to him wider than I thought possible. The need to judge him disappeared, and I found I had, without my even knowing it, learned to love. I wrote the book the second time to tell that story.

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there is not enough time to shrink back

The wind is howling outside my window, and I’ve been dreaming of death again. For over a week now, every night, I struggle against the current. The undertow pulls at my ankles. The water fills my throat. The sky is black with a faint green tinge, the way it used to look when I was a kid and the tornadoes were rushing in. We’d huddle in the stairwell, in case the windows shattered.

I forget that this is what spring looks like every year. I can’t get down to the River because the snow still blocks the way. As it does on all my favorite nearby trails. It’s worse than snow. With the melting underway, it’s a crust of brittle ice over slush and mud. There’s an invitation to a bruised hip. I’m stuck on paved roads. The daffodils still seem too far away. And my hands are craving the dirt in a way they haven’t in years, since the garden was fresh, and I couldn’t keep myself away from it.

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cell by cell

I live in a cell bricked with books. Thousands of them, cemented with desiccated flowers I grew myself, sweat riming their papery remains. Glossed with calories burned and the tear of muscle. Wooly bits of yarn stick out from the cracks between the pages. Quilts blanket the ceiling, blocking out the stars. Outside, the myriad me stands sentinel. Altar boy, prep school scholarship star, Mardi Gras king, all in a row. It certainly is beautiful, as far as prisons go. For someone else it might even be a castle.

This is what idolatry looks like. These walls I built myself–these are my golden calf. Good and beautiful things, holy even. Ambition and moxie and nerve, all used to brick in a life, to create a simulacrum of safety. To keep things small and manageable.

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a perpetual Lent

No, I’m not giving up chocolate for Lent. Nor alcohol, nor swearing, nor snark. I’m not giving up anything for Lent. I’m a vegan(ish) monk who doesn’t eat sugar, for heaven’s sake! I don’t own property in my name; I don’t have a career; I don’t decide the contours of my daily life; and I don’t have sex. What’s left to give up? Breathing?

For several years now, instead of giving something up for Lent, I’ve tried to take something on instead. I’d add an extra time of Centering Prayer in the day, or more Bible reading, or a daily walk. I’d pick a spiritual book to work through or a daily journaling practice. But in addition to being a vegan(ish) monk who doesn’t eat sugar, I’m also rather obsessive, achievement-oriented, and competitive. Adding something on during Lent activates my goal-meeting mechanism, and rather than deepen my spiritual practices or enrich my relationship with God, taking something on, as much as fasting, often becomes another way to earn and to prove–if only to myself–that I’m really a great monk and Christian.

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the graces of friendship

We live with a poverty of friendship. We all relate to one another, to ourselves, and to God every day. What does it say that our word for that exchange–relationship–has come to mean primarily the romantic and sexual?

One of the unexpected graces of the monastic life has been the recognition of the tremendous gift of friendship. When I chose celibacy, I was both assenting to some deeper intuition of my identity and actively choosing to live in a way that decentralizes the sexual and romantic quest. That doesn’t mean that the fantasy of married or family life, my body’s longing to be touched, or the deeper and very real calling to partnered life have left me. On the contrary–all three (and more) are clearer when illuminated by the light of celibacy. The value and abundance of friendship in my life has been similarly revealed.

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