Scenes from the first day in Sydney

Scenes from the first day in Sydney
D, the Opera House, and the Bridge

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ash Wednesday... Lent Begins

While some of you may be celebrating Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, on this side of the world, we've begun the season of Lent with Ash Wednesday.

One of the tertians told a funny story this morning: apparently a maintenance man was cleaning up the church sacristy before mass and saw what looked like pile of soot in a big ashtray, sitting on the shelf near the vestments. Concerned that the white vestments not get dirty, he disposed of the ashtray in the wastebin and headed out the door. When the priest came back into the sacristy to bring the ashes out for Ash Wednesday service, he was dismayed not to see them where he'd left them. After a frantic search, he found the pile of ashes in the wastebin, along with some rubbish from the office next door. When he dumped the ashes out and collected them back into the glass dish, he failed to see that there was also a broken toner cartridge in the rubbish. It seems that the crosses marking the parishioners foreheads that year lasted a bit longer than usual... like a whole week!

A bit more seriously, as we know, Lent is offered by the Church as a season of spiritual renewal in preparation for the celebration of Easter. While it's typical that people give something up for Lent, like chocolate, or ice cream, there are actually three traditional practices: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer. Each practice is intended to help us develop three key relationships.

In fasting, we are invited to gently master our body's appetites and urges, in order that our physical cravings do not run our lives. As one who loves food and for whom vanity is the only antidote for obesity, fasting is a tricky business. However, as helpful as it is to fast from foods we're overly fond of, or drink, we might also be creative in pinpointing some habit from which to refrain, for instance, gossip, or having to be right all the time, or being the one in control.

If you went to Catholic grade school, you may recall during Lent that we were given little cardboard banks and asked to save up our coins for poor children in Africa. Almsgiving is not only about giving charity to others in need, it is also about examining our relationship to our material abundance and security, and discerning how much is enough. During this economic downturn, many of us are being forced into a more austere lifestyle. But the season of Lent includes an invitation to choose living more simply as a path to happiness, as well as generosity. Almsgiving might also be about growing in awareness, not only that there are people who live in desperate poverty, but also in understanding the systems and economies that contribute to this unjust state of affairs.

And finally, prayer... the means through which we grow in and deepen the relationship with God. Taking time out for prayer can be as challenging as doing the other things we know to be healthy, but are nonetheless hard to make into habits (exercise, taking a day off...). And as much as people use the analogy of human relationships, suggesting that we do not neglect spending time each day connecting with our spouse or best friends, so how could we miss time with God-- it just isn't quite the same. Sometimes I think the challenge is that we have a narrow definition of prayer, and we do not count as prayer the kinds of activities that do connect us with our deep desires, our aspirations, our sense of beauty, or pleasure, or higher purpose. Maybe the challenge this Lent could be to identify the way in which we each find ourselves already communing with God, and simply building on this, rather than adding a style of prayer that doesn't already feel natural. Prayer happens any time we turn our minds and hearts to God, and is worth any extra intention we might bring to making space for it in our daily lives.

As St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits said, "may we use all the means available for us to make progress in the Lord," and may we all find this Lent a season that brings us closer to God, our neighbor, and our true selves.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Taranga Zoo

Ah, the life, right? Napping in the afternoon. Here are some shots from the Taranga Zoo, where four of us spent our Saturday. Even though it rained on and off, the animals didn't seem to mind.

The dingo, for real! No babies in sight...

If I could just reach a little further... lunch!

Notice the artistic composition...

After the Zoo, we took up Johann's suggest to refresh ourselves with German beer at a place in the Rocks, the old town part of Sydney, and then had a nice Italian meal nearby. A great way to spend a Saturday. I have to admit, as one who has not necessarily been good about taking vacations or really unplugging on a day off, I think I am starting to learn some good habits.

On Sunday, Canisius College hosted a tea after mass, giving the tertians an opportunity to meet some of the folks who come to liturgy here on a regular basis, and to enjoy a whole array of "tea cakes." And then I drove down to Manly to meet a friend and his family for the Sunday barbie... All I can say is, its a good thing that Ash Wednesday is this week and that Lent begins.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

A Visit to St. Canice's Parish in Kings Cross

Yes, this is a scene of the popular backyard "barbie," though there is not a shrimp to be found (they call them prawns here). Pictured is Brother Geoff Pearson, a Jesuit who teaches Religion and Mathematics at St. Ignatius College... doing a fabulous job with the chops.

Prior to entering the Jesuits, Geoff was an organizational and management consultant, but has primarily been teaching in what we would call secondary schools for the past eight years. Geoff and his community at St. Canice's Parish, Kings Cross, hosted our Tertian group this past Wednesday for a delightful barbie behind the parish house. Kings Cross is something like a cross between Greenwich Village and Amsterdam's redlight district, so the parish does a considerable amount of outreach to the folks in the area, ministering to the homeless, prostitutes, and new immigrants. The Australian branch of the Jesuit Refugee Service is also housed in the parish complex. JRS ( has been serving displaced peoples since 1980... really impressive.

Our group continued to explore the themes of cultural diversity and community life through the week, and thanks to Eileen Glass' gifted facilitation, we generated a number of ideas for promoting and deepening our common life, both while here in Australia in this temporary community and in the ones we will return to in the Fall.

Now we're beginning study of St. Ignatius' Autobiography, and the Jesuit Constitutions... foundational documents for us in the Society of Jesus. While these are things that the tertians have all read before, for many of us, we haven't given them much consideration since the Novitiate, between 15 and 20 years ago for many of us. For myself, it is a valuable exercise-- considering the experiences of Ignatius, and the intentions behind these core documents. More on all this later.

Finally, I had the chance to catch up on some of the movies nominated for Academy Awards... both Milk and The Reader were hard hitting and high quality, in my estimation.

Hope that you have a great weekend!

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Building and Living in Community

These days, our group is reflecting on the joys and perils of community, not in the ideal, but in the real world. Our facilitator this week is Eileen Glass, who is a formator for leaders in the worldwide L'Arche movement, creating community for intellectually disabled adults since 1964. (See

Eileen has been involved with L'Arche since the early 1970's, and her stories of "mutually transforming love" are profoundly evocative and moving. She brings a powerful and no-nonsense authenticity to this topic of community, a topic that sends some of us running for cover. One quote caught my attention in particular: "the one who says they love community destroys community... the person who loves their brothers and sisters, this is the person who builds community."

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Meeting up with Friends & Seeing Wildlife Up Close

This week I had a chance to meet with a couple of friends I've made over the years who are involved in organizational and leadership development work. Earlier in the week I had dinner with Nick Freeman and his wife Min. I met Nick in Boulder this past year at the Integral Leadership in Action gathering-- he's doing great work helping organizations work to their full potential. And today I had the pleasure of re-connecting with Michael Hann and meeting his wife Emily, and their 6 mo Liam (pictured). Michael and I met around 2005 at a week long intensive workshop dedicated to an extraordinary theory/practice for systemic change, called Theory U/Presencing. I know that the Org Development world is pretty small, but nonetheless, I was still sort of surprised that that Michael and Nick are connected here in Sydney by a single degree of separation. Both are doing some great work on behalf of people and the planet... very inspiring!

Speaking of the planet, the guys and I spent a rainy Saturday afternoon in the Sydney Aquarium and the Sydney Wildlife World. I don't think the cute animal to the left needs any introduction. This particular Koala is doing what most Koala's spend 80% of their day doing... what a life!

Yes, the kangaroos are on the other side of a glass... I think they were willing to get that close in order to get out of the rain. These were the first ones I've seen up close... amazing animals! In fact, my feeling the whole day was one of amazement at the variety and wonder of creation. The animal and plant life of Australia is quite distinct from the rest of the world, due to a number of factors, including the timing of its split from the prehistoric landmass.

My favorite picture and moment of the day...

Sadly, we also got news this weekend about the fatal plane crash near Buffalo. This happened just a short distance from the homes of people I know. Again, I think of how small the world is, and how close knit the community is in Buffalo. Maybe it takes tragedies like this one and that of the wildfires here in Australia, or Katrina, or the Tsunami, or even the economic crisis to discover how interconnected and increasingly interdependent we are.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Sam the Koala, Celibacy, and Mildura

This is Sam, the Koala. She was rescued by firefighters in the region of Victoria, one of many animals saved from the wildfires. Cute, no?

Some odds and ends... we just finished a week-long workshop exploring themes related to sexuality, celibacy, sex abuse, and the graces/challenges of chaste friendship. I know, sounds a bit odd for priests to be talking about sex. Actually, it was a really worthwhile time-- valuable for us as middle aged men facing the challenges of living celibacy for the next 30-40 years, and very valuable for ministry to people.
Next week, we move on to the topic of cultural diversity- another important topic for us as we engage the complex reality of globalization, a culturally diverse church, and the challenges of negotiating differences.

Also, we're beginning to discuss our apostolic assignments after the Spiritual Exercises. As part of our work, we're sent to various rural areas to offer retreats, and I found out today that I'll be sent to the town of Mildura in Victoria. This is an area north of the wildfires, a ways northeast of Adelaide. From what I understand, it is a town in a fertile produce growing region, located on the Murray river. I have yet to get more details, but it is going to be fun exploring another part of the country.

Lastly, I found out this evening at dinner about the tragic plane crash just outside of Buffalo. The town of Clarence is actually where one of my closest friends and his family are from... 49 people killed.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Avian Life in Pymble

So, we're back to the birds again... I was able to capture a shot of the elusive Kookaburra in the "bush" out behind the college. If you haven't clicked the link on my page to listen to its distinct call, you have to check this out. It's like a cross between a maniacal laughter and a baby crying. Give it a second to get to the middle of the recording to get the full effect. If you play it at work, the sound will be sure to attract some attention.

And then, there's the ubiquitous Sulphur Crested Cockatoo (I think the sulphur is on account of the fact that they come from hell!). You might wonder why, even how I could harbor such hateful feelings toward a cute looking bird. For whatever reason, we seem to have a flock of them that have made Canisius College home... and they have an ear piercing screech that sounds like the call a prehistoric pteradactyl might have made... at 5:30 am and then throughout the day. Let me tell you, they might appear to be big white innocuous birds, but wait till you hear a squadron of them swooping in over the lawn!

I know, you're thinking I sound a little imbalanced, and maybe it's true! For your amusement, below is a link to u-tube where these birds have their own video series...

Actually, the sad thing is that the fires have affected over a million birds and animals, including cockatoos. There's a very sweet story of a firefighter who rescued a Koala bear named Sam... picture to follow.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Meaning-making in the face of loss

So many thoughts these days... I would imagine that the wildfires near Melbourne have been in the international news. The devastating effects of the wildfires have left a real pall over things here in Southern Australia. People are trying to make sense of the tragic scale of the losses, the horrifying and sad stories of both victims and survivors, and perhaps most inexplicably, the fact that several of the fires seem to have been the result of arson.

As was the case with Hurricane Katrina in the United States, there was scarcely a pause before politicians and climatologists, city planners and environmental groups began pointing fingers and ascribing blame. Certainly, there is responsibility involved here... the way that policies developed in favor of reducing carbon emissions have also put populations at risk by not doing controlled burns of the highly flammable eucalyptus forests. This was a failure to think through the potential consequences of these policies, and to take a complex, systematic, and long term view of the issues. And then there is the failure to initiate adequate warning/communication protocols that would connect people with the latest news about the dangers of the fire, and offer contingency plans to protect people. Worst of all, there is the criminal behavior of arsonists, who have, in the words of Kevin Rudd the prime minister, committed mass murder. And along with the finger pointing, there are certainly those who are still scrambling into action, joining volunteer rescue efforts, donating clothing and food, helping to contact relatives and friends of those who have died, been hospitalized, or are still missing. Indeed, there are still fires still burning and people still at risk.

At the same time, I have the same sense that I did immediately following 9/11--in addition to all the appropriate forms of reaction and response, the task seems to be to take some time and face the loss... absorb the pain of it, allow the reminder of our mortality and the fragile nature of life to sink in. My sense is that this task is usually too hard, too unbearable, and as a result, we swing into actions that are more in the service of helping us feel better than they are to really deal with the root issues. Perhaps I am biased too much by what I would call our reactivity after 9/11... I'm not sure.

Well, it's late and these days have actually been quite full with conferences. More about that later. G'night!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Some of my fellow tertians...

This is Arthur Leger, a Jesuit from Fiji who has been the director of a school on Chuk, in Micronesia. If you don't know where Micronesia is, this is a must for Google Earth! Arthur and I lived in the same community when we were studying theology in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This is Charles Sim from Singapore- enjoying a relaxing cuppa tea!

And this is Peter Scally, from the British Province-- also enjoying a cuppa tea (I suspect that Peter could have been a stand up comic, and perhaps he really is!). Peter is one of the originators of the "Pray as you go" podcast and "Sacred Space,"- innovative ways of helping contemporary Catholics to pray using the latest media.

Here are Gilbert Sunghera (a California province Jesuit working at Detroit-Mercy as an architect), Bruno Brantschen (a Swiss Jesuit who works with young adults), and Bill Clark (a New England Province Jesuit who teaches theology at Holy Cross). This was from our dinner out for Chinese New Year.

And here are Johann Spermann (a Jesuit from Bavarian who is a professional psychologist) and Simon Bishop (a British Jesuit who has done a variety of ministries with young adults, and just completed a short stint in British Guyana).

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Prayer of Jesus: The Silence of Life

Today, I had the privilege of celebrating Sunday mass for the community that gathers here on Sunday mornings. In the gospel reading from the first chapter of Mark, Jesus is a man on the move-- liberating people from demons, healing the sick, raising up those who are cast down, and making whole those who are broken. It would seem that he barely takes a moment for himself, so urgent he is in his labors for others. However, early in the morning, he withdraws to a deserted place where he prays to his Father in silence.

Some might think that the prayer of Jesus must be different from our own, more special somehow. We might assume that Jesus heard God speaking to him directly and unambiguously. Yet one theologian I've read suggests that Jesus' experience of prayer was more like our own than less, and that he too experiences God's stillness and silence. Yet unlike a silence that is empty and somehow threatening, this is a silence that is full--what we might call the Silence of Life. It was perhaps in this Silence of Life that the relationship with Jesus' Father became most manifest to him as a relationship of intimate love and affection, mercy and profound acceptance. In the Silence, Jesus could discern more clearly the path he needed to walk, and the way to accomplish the Father's will, rather than the will of the world, which must have been a temptation. From this Silence, God's Word is manifest, the Good News that God is Love, and that God's intention and will for us is Life in its fullness. It is through the Silence of Life that Jesus is able to discern what magnifies the authentic Life that God intends, and all the ways that this Life is diminished.

Rather than see Jesus as a "do gooder," or a "Mr. Fixit" who is constantly acting on behalf of others whether they want his help or not, the "doing" of Jesus flows from his "being" which is nourished and formed in this Silence of Life. His action seems to flow from his contemplation, just as his contemplation is no doubt fed by his action.

I've been reflecting myself on how seldom I withdraw for prayer and allow myself to settle quietly into the Silence of Life, to become consciously present to the fullness of the Divine Presence. Instead, I am usually "busy about many things," as Jesus says of Martha in the Gospel. And even when I do take time to pray, so often it is busy prayer, about people I love, and for the wellbeing of the world. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, but I do notice how affected I am when I allow myself to quiet down and discover this Silence of Life, the fullness of this moment here and now in God's living presence. In that rare moment, I know who I am and what my life is for, who gives me life and for what purpose... and the false urgencies that usually push and pull me every which way seem to fall away.

Thomas Merton, a trappist monk and one of the most well known writers about the contemplative life, once wrote, "the soul is like a shy, quiet animal," and thus in order to commune with our own souls, we must learn to not only endure silence, but cultivate a habit and practice of silence in our busy lives. May the Silence of Life bring us into the fullness of this very moment, and help guide all the decisions and actions that flow from it.

On a more serious note... Brush FIres in Melbourne

Please keep the people of Melbourne in your prayers. Every summer, folks here have to contend with brush fires, but this year, the heat wave and drought have combined for a deadly effect. See below:

** Australian bush fires turn deadly **
At least 14 people are killed in wildfires in southern Australia, the deadliest to hit the country for decades.
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Saturday, February 7, 2009

Saturday at Newport

This first picture says it all... a "study" day at Newport beach.

One of the many critters seen on this particular Saturday trip.

Some of the amazing colors here at the shore...

A modest little beach house donated to the Jesuits for their recreation.

"What?! We have to walk all the way down there to get to the water?"

Friday, February 6, 2009

Heat, Canisius College, and Arthur's Arrival

G'day! I don't want to rub it in, but we're in the midst of a bit of heatwave these days... in fact, we're expecting temperatures between 100 and 105 degrees this weekend! I know that most of you at home are buried under snow and dealing with frigid cold, but the nice thing about the cold is that you can always put on another "jumper" as they call sweaters here. AC is not so fashionable here in Australia, so we're sweating it out with fans and cold showers (it is better for the environment, after all).

Here are a few shots of Canisius College, the spirituality center where the tertian program is housed. It was once a school of theology for Jesuits in training, but now is a combined novitiate, spirituality center, home for the "golden oldies"- as the retired men are called, and the tertian program. The statue of Jesus with his welcoming arms wide open is just below my window, and the porch is on the back side of the building, just outside the recreation room. It's a bit institutional, however, the warmth, good humor, and hospitality of the guys make all the difference. One of the golden oldies, Kevin MacDonald, celebrated his 80th birthday yesterday-- we had a fine little party for him and made sure to sing loud enough that even he could hear us.

And we're happy to report that after several weeks of trouble with immigration, Arthur Leger has finally arrived at the T-ship. Arthur is from Fiji, a country currently run by a military dictatorship and in a bit of tension with its international neighbors. Arthur and I lived together in Cambridge while studying theology, so it is very good to see him again!

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Critters in Oz...

I don't have much to report these days as life has slowed down considerably (by design), and we continue to spend morning listening to one another's interior life stories, with the afternoon open for reading, prayer, free time etc. You might think that this sounds like a great gig, but let me tell you, for many of us Type A's, slowing down is the hardest thing to do!

So, yesterday I spent some of that free time ambling through the Dalrymple Park Preserve just down the road... a lovely Gumtree, Ironwood, and Eucalyptus forest with lots of loud and colorful birds (still can't get used to the Cockatoos, which sound to my ears like something out of a horror movie). It was a great walk, and one I planned to repeat often. However...

This morning I was toweling off after an early morning swim (I know, the routine sounds rough!) when I noticed something like a scab just below my waist line on my hip. On closer inspection, it had legs! I could not believe that after years and years of hiking in the northeast of the US, I never got a tick bite, but a few weeks in Australia, and there the little bugger was. Since these things can lead to pretty nasty results no matter where they happened, I got right over the the doctor's office (called a "surgery" here... how's that for provoking a little anxiety!?) to have it removed. Sparing the details, the damn little bloodsucker was still alive, even after a good drubbing in the pool!

Ah well, live and learn... no more short pants for hiking in the forest! We'll see what other news to find as the days go on.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Happy Chinese New Year... the Year of the Ox!

Last night, 10 0f us headed into downtown Sydney to join 60,000 Aussies for a Chinese New Year celebration... beginning with a fiery "Sichuan" meal, followed by a few hours of huge lantern floats, street performers, dancers and singers in native costume, and a kung fu demonstration... delightful! If you've partcipated in a family event involving a parade and huge crowds, you can imagine how difficult it might be to keep track of ten people, let alone ten guys with their own ideas of what they'd like to see, do, eat, etc. But I think it is a true testimony to how well we are doing in building community that this whole operation came off beautifully and we had a blast.

And incidently, the Year of the Ox is characterized as celebrating patience, and prosperity through hard work... something our Wall Street Barons don't seem to know much about.

If I'm not mistaken, the Superbowl is being played as I write this, despite it being Monday afternoon on this side of the world... its a funny thing how this time/space business works, isn't it?

As for what's happening around here, we continue to listen carefully to one another's "inner stories" this week... so amazing, the mystery of the way God works in each person's history, through all the relationships and circumstances of life. And for all the meaning making we might do trying to make sense of it all, there is nonetheless a sense that the mystery remains. What a gift to have this opportunity, both to share, and to listen to this mysterious unfolding for each of us!