Monday, October 26, 2009
One of the most haunting and beautiful songs in a Broadway musical comes from "Les Miserables", Fantine's tragic solo, "I dreamed a dream". The lyrics by librettist, Alain Boublil are as follow:
I DREAMED A DREAM
There was a time when men were kind
When their voices were soft
And their words inviting
There was a time when love was blind
And the world was a song
And the song was exciting
There was a time
Then it all went wrong
I dreamed a dream in time gone by
When hope was high
And life worth living
I dreamed that love would never die
I dreamed that God would be forgiving
Then I was young and unafraid
And dreams were made and used and wasted
There was no ransom to be paid
No song unsung, no wine untasted
But the tigers come at night
With their voices soft as thunder
As they tear your hope apart
And they turn your dream to shame
He slept a summer by my side
He filled my days with endless wonder
He took my childhood in his stride
But he was gone when autumn came
And still I dream he'll come to me
That we will live the years together
But there are dreams that cannot be
And there are storms we cannot weather
I had a dream my life would be
So different from this hell I'm living
So different now from what it seemed
Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.
Of what do you dream? What are your dreams? There certainly will be storms that come to sweep away our dreams, yet we still dream dreams, for as humans, we all dream dreams and our lives are the better for dreaming. So what are your dreams? What causes you to waken in the night with an intense longing and yearning for a better world, a better life, a better way? Write them down, etch them upon your heart, let no one take them from you. Your dreams are a gift from God. There still can be a time "when hope is high and life is worth living".
Have you dreamed a dream recently? Have you shared this vision with anyone? Of what have you been dreaming of at night in the past month? Sometimes, our night-visions confirm our heart's dreams and deepest longings. Yet so often, we are too busy, anxious and unattentive to listen and remember our dreams. I awoke today with an image in my mind: our night-dreams are like wild birds in our yard. Awaken quickly to alarms, get up suddenly, and you will startle those wild birds and they will fly away and you'll find in the morning that all your dreams in the night have fled and you will not be able to recall one. The garden seems empty. But awaken quietly, slowly and look around you as emerge from sleep. There you will see wild birds perched on many branches, and you will begin to recognize and remember your dreams. Our dreams, like wild birds, will quicken our heart to the beauty and joy and wildness which fills our soul.
Saturday, October 24, 2009
Sacred art radiates God’s glory high above the altar in the sanctuary at Monastery of the Holy Spirit. The glass artwork, a twenty-foot round window facing East, was designed with Lauds in mind. Mary, with open arms, offers the most radical form of hospitality any human has ever given, welcoming the Son of God into her mortal flesh. Within her womb the Christ Child offers the same open armed radiant blessing to the world. Above them both hovers the dove of the Holy Spirit and the hand of God. During Lauds, the morning service of the monastic day, God’s glory fills the sanctuary with radiance streaming through Mary and her Holy Child.
According to The Rule of St. Benedict, the morning service at dawn, also known as Lauds, begins with the blessing from Psalm 67, “May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us.” I have often traveled the freeways, highways and country roads on my way to this abbey, in need of such a blessing. Weary of people, thread-bare of spirit, cynical and nearing burn-out, I’ve discovered God’s gift of spiritual renewal, simply by turning off the country road and heading down the mile long cloister drive lined with Magnolias.
Take the left fork at the end of the drive to arrive at the Abbey Guesthouse if you’re planning to stay overnight. If you’re just coming for Lauds, take the right fork which leads to the Porter’s lodge and the entrance to the Sanctuary. Step into the predawn Sanctuary and spend some time slowing down and gathering your soul together after that long drive. As Lauds begins, let the Psalms wash over your soul as the rising sunlight washes over your face, radiating through the colored glass artwork of Mary and Child. Joy comes in the morning!
After Lauds, stroll out to the gift shop to leisurely browse through an excellent collection of contemplative books. Monks support themselves like everyone else. A monk once told me that monasteries employ monks in a 24-hour workweek. This monastery included cottage industries of gift shop, bread baking, book-binding, stained-glass shop, farming and a Bonsai garden nursery.I am often in need of the restoring help of monastic silence and solitude. That mile long row of Magnolias offered me this grace every retreat I’ve taken to Monastery of the Holy Spirit in
Monday, October 19, 2009
The sky swims with stars in the high desert at four in the morning. After a thirty-minute trek off the state highway along a rutted gravel road I breathed in the sage and juniper desert air as I stepped out of the car. Located in the northwest corner of New Mexico, at the end of fourteen miles of forest service gravel-road, tucked away in a desert canyon surrounded by mesas and sage, Christ in the Desert Benedictine Monastery is what you would call remote. People warned me to avoid traveling the forest service road in the rain as it turns to slippery muck in summer flash storms. Some stretches of the road sneak precariously along cliffs above the Chama river.
Four in the morning is not my favorite time of day. Part of the monastic vow of poverty is giving up sleep in order to pray before dawn. Benedictine monks regard prayer as more important than sleep. The true "work of God", the “opus Dei”, begins at 4:15AM, a time which seems to me the absolute middle of the night, and one of most difficult hours of the 24 hour cycle of a day to pray. Benedict calls monks to begin the new day with Psalm 51:15, “O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise.” Most people require divine assistance to jump start their spiritual life in the middle of the night. Benedictine monks begin their work day at 4:15 in the morning, chanting the Psalms. Leaving the canopy of stars behind us, we quietly stepped into the darkened Sanctuary awaiting the beginning of the new day.
Entry into the contemplative life is like trying to catch a cat. Go directly after a “contemplative experience” and it will coyly dart away. Sit still before dawn, waiting for the sun to rise, and the contemplative life will quietly climb into your lap, lie down and begin to purr. But sitting still in silence doesn’t come naturally or easily.
A fourteen-mile driveway helps. Something about driving mile after mile of a one lane gravel road through sage fields beside ancient mesas gives you a feeling of withdrawal from society into that inner space of the soul where the river of our lives have their headwaters. Guests are invited to leave the highways of civilization, and enter by the narrow road that leads to life (Matthew 7:14).
A monk once told me the road to the monastery is seven years long. That’s the preparation period before taking final vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience. Along a cloister drive, you have a topographical reminder to let go of the busy world, and truly enter the quiet of the spiritual life. It takes a willing heart to get away from the busyness of our ordinary life, head down a cloister drive and step into sacred space of Vigils before we can slow down and truly welcome the gift of silence.
Monday, October 5, 2009
We are amateurs. At the root of amateur is ama, the Latin word for love. An amateur is someone who does what they do “for the love of it”. Love is at the root of all amateurism, whether in sports, parenting or photography. At the heart of most of what we do daily is an ordinary, everyday, aw-shucks, no-nonsense love for what we do.
Good feelings come and go. How many of us get excited as we load up onto our PC what we think is our best photo ever taken. The following day, we look again and a little voice keeps repeating, "You’re no good, you’re no good, you’re no good, baby you’re no good." Just keep repeating that fateful mantra until you slowly kill off love, your love for beauty, for excellence and adventure, for every God-given inner longing for life. Or laugh out loud as you reload your memory card to head out on the next shoot. Life awaits. Love invites us out beyond ourselves, into the world around us, into the lives of others.
We all know it. There’s a place within our heart of hearts, a place where love bubbles up like a wellspring, waking us up way too early to go out in the cold predawn morning. We’re off once again, attempting to capture in our hearts, our mind’s eye or through our camera lens what is just out of our reach, the radiance and wonder of a new day dawning.
This same love puts technology into our hands, brings us home to upload our catch of the day to ooh and aah over the wonders we’ve seen, helps us develop the craft of photography, challenging us to read and reread the manuals, the technical books, the tutorials, in hopes of finding better ways of tapping the source through these clumsy external machines we use.
Love keeps little record of the score, looking beyond the statistics into the heart of life. Love sees the passion among the pixels. Love sees the truth behind the overly-edited photo. Love keeps submitting and resubmitting in hopes of finding a better way to express the inexpressible.
For us amateur photographers, love keeps reloading our camera bag, heading us out on yet another face to face encounter with life. Love beckons us to seek a face to face encounter with beauty as total amateurs who do what we do just for the love of it.