Scenes from the first day in Sydney

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

Monday, August 24, 2009

Last Blog for Now

Well, the time has come to wrap up this show as the tertianship is officially over and I head home tomorrow to the States. It has been grand and full of grace, and I am so grateful for your coming along for the ride along the way. It seems anticlimactic to end without a picture, but in a sense, that also seems just right. There is no way to capture adequately the essence of all that I/We have experienced. In fact, this is one of the great lessons of this time here-- that there is a time for holding on and for letting go, for enjoying the sweetness and savor of the moment and the people and the place, and then to say thank you and goodbye. It is a story that we experience in so many different ways: loving and then losing one's love; starting a project and then bringing it to completion; teaching and letting oneself be taught... setting off from home and eventually making one's way back again.

Classically, as my former students will recall from our study of the Odyssey, this is the cycle of separation, initiation, and return. What do we have to show from our travels? Besides the scars, there are stories, glorious stories.

If you have enjoyed these posts or found any of them helpful, I am so pleased. There is a good chance that I will begin a new blog in the fall devoted exclusively to exploring the resources of Ignatian spirituality, so do stay in touch.

Cheers, and blessings be with you all!

Fr. David

Friday, August 21, 2009

Friday, August 21st

I said goodbye to Simon, Johann, and Peter today. Both Simon and Peter return to the U.K. and Johann to Germany. But since Peter had some extra time, we drove down to Manly Beach for lunch, his last walk along the shore of the Pacific, and a rather extravagant dessert at Max Brenners, a chocolate bar. It was a Belgian waffle drizzled with dark chocolate, accompanied by sliced bananas, strawberries, and vanilla ice cream... wow! What a way to end tertianship! These are more photos from our walk down to Flint and Steel beach on West head.

Things are quiet around here as all the tertians have departed, except for Gilbert. His sister is visiting from California for a week, so I'm more or less on my own for the next three days before leaving on Tuesday. While I feel a bit restless to do some last touring, there is a part of me that needs a little space and quiet time. We'll see how these days unfold...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Just a few more days in Oz

With my departure date looming, and the farewells to several of my Jesuit peers over the last few days, the end of this amazing seven months is weighing in an impactful way on my heart. Those of us left have been taking small day trips, enjoying last meals, and soaking up the last drops of one another's companionship. As the numbers of young-er Jesuits dwindles in many places globally, we feel especially grateful for the gift of these seven months with one another. So, naturally, goodbyes are hard. Yesterday, Johann, Peter and I went to West head again-- just a short drive, but it feels like a world away. Above is a picture of a sizeable lizard sunning itself in the late afternoon.

Enjoying the view...

Our farewell lunch with Arthur at the Circular Quay in Sydney Harbour-- a real treat!

One of the colorful lorikeets enjoying a sip of nectar in a flowering tree...

The Sydney Harbour bridge at night on the way home from the airport.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Two Days Reflecting on Collaboration

As we're preparing for departure, we spent the past couple of days reflecting on a very key issue for many of us working in church related organizations and Jesuit ministries: the nature of collaboration between Jesuits and our various lay and religious partners. Collaboration and teamwork of any kind always has its challenges and rewards, and the same is true in this case. Our conversation was enriched by the participation of two laymen and one woman religious, all of them in roles of leadership within Jesuit organizations. Their stories and perspectives heightened awareness of a sense in which even long time partners in ministry still feel like guests and in-laws, and that Jesuits tend to take most of their privilege and social capital for granted. They also helped to raise our consciousness around the challenges of collaboration with people who pick up and move after a few years, who don't understand the challenges of making a living in today's economy and the costs that come with commitment to a vocation within Jesuit schools or ministries. While these issues weren't so new to most of us, the conversation was enriching and valuable for all of us. And there were plenty of stories and examples of the way in which collaboration and partnership in the service of our mission has created great opportunities for friendship and growth.

Just a week left for me here in Oz...

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Expressing Gratitude and Appreciation

These pictures were taken in Ku-rin-gai Chase National Park last Thursday... I don't know that I would ever tire of the natural beauty here, though I suppose it could be possible that I would take it for granted if I lived here. Perhaps that's one of the good things about being a tourist?

As our program draws to a close these days, we've been about the business of reflecting on the fruits of our experiences here in Australia, the graces we've received, the lessons we've learned, etc. As you know from your own experience, when we spent time counting up our blessings, we can experience a sense of well being and fullness that is quite deep and lasting. But even as good as it feels to us when we take stock personally in this way, there is something even better, even more marvelous, when we express this gratitude to others, and to God.

This morning we had a chance to give feedback to the leadership of the Australian province of the Jesuits, and in all that, there was this palpable sense of being privileged, that is, to be grateful for that which we could never earn or merit... this gift of seven months here in this beautiful country, the hospitality of the hundreds and hundred of people we met along the way, and maybe most of all to one another for friendship, which is a gift beyond measuring.

There have been times when I've heard people say to me or to others, "you're worth it," as if to suggest that somehow we're entitled to the good things that come into our lives. To be honest, I think that whether this is true or not, it misses the boat entirely. Somehow, feeling and expressing a sense of unmerited privilege and deep appreciation is so much more satisfying than thinking that I am entitled. Does this resonate with you?

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Day Four of Retreat

Spent the afternoon at Newport Beach, just a half hour from Pymble. Since we're in winter here, the water is still really cold, but it was still nice to sit on the beach in the sun reading and reflecting. One of the great gifts of these seven months has been to live in the moment for a change. While some people are more naturally oriented to reflect on the past and dwell on what has happened to them, or to regrets, I tend in the opposite direction. Usually, I lean my energy into the future with plans and projects, and while all that is fine and good, especially because I find my creativity engaged, it also leaves me with anxiety and a sense of deadlines. During these seven months, I have discovered the simple but nonetheless marvelous experience of doing nothing, of having no specific aim or purpose in mind, and of even playing. I know it's come up here in the blog before, but this is something I want to remind myself of for the future, when I'm back into fulltime work and tempted by my usual work addicted habits.

I need to pay attention to what God is calling me to in the moment-- it is often fairly simple and not mysterious. When eating a meal, what is called for is paying attention to the food and the company. When working with a person in crisis, it is usually about listening and being fully present. When it is about washing dishes, it is about washing the dishes... nothing to complicated. This means slowing the mind down a bit, and paying more attention to doing one thing well at a time (not text messaging while driving, for instance, or other forms of "multi-tasking.")

I am making a commitment to the Ignatian mindfulness prayer we call the Examen... something I have always done instinctively, but which is all the more important when we find ourselves busy.

And then there is the commitment to making time for friends... simple things, not rocket science. Living in the moment... finding sacramental presence in the now, feeling it in my body more than trying to know it with my mind. How does this all sound to you?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Day Three of Retreat

Believe it or not, in the Southern hemisphere we're coming to the brink of Spring! I know that by now this should probably not make such an impression on me, but it does. And even though it doesn't begin officially until the start of September, the wildflowers are blossoming all over the place. I took these pictures while hiking today in Ku-ring-gai Chase National Park, a gorgeous area 20 minutes north of Pymble, our tertianship HQ. For me, this season reminder of new life evokes the transition I'm in these days, facing toward the future and a new job, but rooted in where I've been and who I've been with.

The Akuna Bay Marina, hidden away in the safety of the park... not a ripple of wind disturbing the mirrorlike surface of the water, reflecting everything above it. A perfect spot for a quiet afternoon cup of tea, or a "cuppa" as they say downunder.

The bare rock on the Waratah track... like a grey lizard skin, or the foundation stones of a building.

And wherever I go, my shadow comes along. Though there are days I need eyes on the back of my head so that I can see the way that the shadow is influencing my thoughts, feelings, and actions. Today, I was mindful of my shadow in the sense that as we are bringing this experience to a close, there are temptations to disengage and move my attention and energy into the future-- not to be fully present to the discomfort and sadness of goodbyes, or all that I will miss here in Australia.

And then the sunsets... each moment more colorful and lovely than the last. Beauty beyond my ability to capture... and maybe that's the point. We began saying farewell tonight with a candle light prayer service- tomorrow Dan will be the first to head back home and to new responsibilities.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Second Day of Retreat

I will miss the sound of the laughing Kookaburras in my backyard here in Pymble, north of Sydney.

As the tertianship begins to draw to a finish, I am mindful of several fruits for which I am very grateful: friends, faith, freedom, and a deepened appreciation for St. Ignatius, spiritual father to many of us.

For starters, when you come to a new group, there is no telling how things are going to go, especially if the group is constituted by people of a great diversity of cultures and backgrounds. I am so grateful that the 12 of us got on so well and that we developed into a close knit and very functional community. Drawn from 7 different countries and of an age range spanning about 15 years, we managed to find more in common than not, and to truly enjoy one another's company. More than that, we became real 'friends in the Lord,' that is, people who not only enjoy close friendships, but who also are committed to a common purpose and mission. And in addition to my Jesuit brothers both here on tertianship and new Aussie Jesuit friends, Sarah, Michael & Emily, Nick & Min, Melina & Nick, Marty & Kerri, Tom, Matt, Anne Marie, Robina, and my diocesan priest friends from South Australia. What a gift international friendships are!

Then there is the grace of freedom from old illusions and fears, one of the real gifts of the long retreat. After really wrestling with God and my poor spiritual director, it became clear that I wasn't really trusting others, including God, to take care of me. I became aware that for whatever self-protective reason, I develope this notion that no one could take better care of me than myself... a sort of defensive self-sufficiency. While this might have been necessary at some point early in my life, to continue to live that way is actually a kind of death. As human beings, we are made to be in relationship, to love and be loved. It's only taken me 40 years to discover how I was blocking others, including God, by saying implicitly- "no thanks, I've got myself all taken care of." What a relief to be relieved of this burden!

And faith... my faith, a Catholic faith. In all honesty, I have been a bit hard on my own institutional religion over the years, seeing more of the Church's faults than appreciating its blessings. But meeting lots of regular folks who have lived for 70 and 80 years as faithful Catholics, seeing the beautiful ways that their faith has enriched and sustained their lives and how it has been far more of a blessing than a burden-- this has been a real gift for me. It may sound odd, but it is true.

And finally St. Ignatius of Loyola: a major part of our study in the tertianship involves a return to the basics of our Jesuit life, to exploration of Ignatius' autobiography and spiritual legacy, study of the Constitutions of the Society of Jesus, and of Jesuit history. I know that other religions orders have rich traditions and deep spiritualities as well (currently, I am reading a very good book by an Aussie Cistercian monk, Michael Casey), but I am so grateful that providence called me to this particular religious order at this very interesting crossroads in history.

Monday, August 10, 2009

First Day of Retreat

An underwater photograph from my snorkeling adventure off the coast of Whyalla in the Spencer Gulf... certainly one of the highlights of my travels here in Australia.

We began retreat last night to begin bringing our tertianship experience to a close after seven months. First of all, I realize what a privilege it is to have five days set aside for quiet reflection, especially given how many contemporary people find it challenging to set aside even fifteen minutes for recollection each day.

If I have taken any lesson from these seven months, it is the recognition that that way the world generally works is mad, and that true sanity requires bucking many of the world's values (thinking that more is always better; valuing doing over being; the way we have commodified values and lost the intrinsic worth of people, time, simple things, etc.). St. Ignatius painted the contrast between the way of the world and the Way of Christ by sifting through two sets of motivations. The way of the world is generally motivated by a desire for riches, honors, and pride... all based on a distorted illusion of our true nature. The root of that delusion is that we are not loved or lovable, and so we cling to riches, honors, and pride, wrapping our frail egos up in window dressing.

By contrast, the Way of Christ is the way of the Beatitudes, motivated not by fear of emptiness but by a desire to respond to the love of God, a love that brought about our creation, that maintains our existence from moment to moment, that is expressed through the self gift of God's presence which we call grace and by the love we receive from family and friends.

The way of the world is based on an illusion of scarcity-- that what I am is not enough, and that what little I have is always in danger of slipping away, so I cling to it and grasp for more. In this sense, I spend more energy at getting than giving, and what I do get, I feel entitled to, instead of grateful for.

The Way of Christ is based on an experience of abundance... that what I am and all that my life consists of is a gift. Even if what I have is small, it is more than enough. Out of gratitude I am generous... and strangely, Life responds to my generosity by filling my heart with satisfaction and contentment.

In Paul's second letter to the Corinthians, he writes:

2 Cor 9:6-10

"Brothers and sisters:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly,
and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.
Each must do as already determined, without sadness or compulsion,
for God loves a cheerful giver.
Moreover, God is able to make every grace abundant for you,
so that in all things, always having all you need,
you may have an abundance for every good work.
As it is written:

He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
his righteousness endures forever.

The one who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food
will supply and multiply your seed
and increase the harvest of your righteousness."

And so, most of all this day as I reflect on my experience of these seven months, I feel gratitude welling up inside me, and a cheerful desire to make a return on all that I have been given. I know that the way of the world is with me too, and need to be vigilant about falling into old patterns when tertianships ends. The temptation is particularly great to try and merit my existence by working too much, somehow thinking I can earn what I have received, or prove my worth by what I do. I have struggled with over extension, burn-out, and a bit of resentment at times. Do you know what I am talking about? More challenging is for me to live with the humility of appreciation-- that God has given more to me than I could ever earn or even be worthy of (For some reason, I find myself ending sentences with prepositions...).

Sunday, August 9, 2009

A Perfect Day in Sydney

Yesterday was our first day off from a week of intense reflection on issues surrounding Christian/Muslim dialogue. Our conversations helped us sift through so many considerations, but in a study of the Qur'an and the Bible, there are far more similarities than differences. Even so, so much depends on the mindset and willingness of the people involved in the conversation to respect and learn from one another.

After such a demanding week, it was so pleasant to take the day off in Sydney yesterday... it was cool and sunny, a gorgeous day to spend at the harbor. Gilbert, Johann and I went to Darling harbor to do a little shopping for family and friends, then to the Fish Market for lunch, and then back in toward the City and the Rocks for drinks and dinner with the several of the other guys. Above is a pelican near the fishermans' wharf.

The Marina... it is so good to live close to water! I grew up on Lake Ontario, one of the Great Lakes, but it wasn't quite like being close to the ocean.

Johann and I are on the Rocks with the Harbour Bridge behind us.

The Opera House with the moon rising to the right.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Catholic and Muslim Dialogue

Photo: Pope Benedict and Dr. Mustafa Ceric, the Grand Mufti of Bosnia
(I met Dr. Ceric in NYC four years ago)

It's been an exciting few days of conversation here at Canisius College as the tertians meet with Herman Roborgh, S.J. a New Zealander who has studied Islam and lived for many years in Indonesia, Pakistan, and India, and who works for the promotion of constructive Christian and Muslim dialogue. We've been hashing around significant issues of theology, exploring our own experiences of encounter and relationship with Muslim people, and asking hard questions about the tensions between politics and religion.

I've been recovering from a bout of food poisoning and haven't had a whole lot of energy for the blogging business, though I do hope to share a bunch of my photos and stories before winding up and heading back to the US in three weeks.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Back from our Five Week Jesuit Roadshow in the Country

Bishop Greg O'Kelly, S.J. and I at the underground Catholic Church in Coober Pedy, the opal mining capital of the world.

The last day of our trip to visit the northern reaches of the Port Pirie Diocese with Bishop Greg. I'm not sure that Dan has woken up entirely...

A scene from our last night in Sevenhill before returning East to Sydney.

Stopping in Mildura for lunch with AnneMarie Dimasi and Melina Conte, who made the retreat in daily life a few months back. Peter is looking dapper in his geniune Akubra hat, no?

So, it's been a good long while since the last posts, and there have been many adventures between then and now. Over the next few days, I will do a little review and catch you up on where we've been and what we've been up to!