the golden calf


Posted By on Mar 30, 2017

(cyprian) This image of the golden calf that we heard in today’s reading (Ex 32:7-14) is intriguing. While Moses is not only having the Law dictated to him but also having his most intimate mystical encounters with the Lord––remember, just before this in Exodus 19 and 24, Moses encounters God in the cloud and in the thick darkness––the Israelites have pretty quickly forgotten the God who brought them out of the land of Egypt, brought them out of slavery into freedom, fed them manna in the wilderness, and made water flow out from the rock[i], and they’ve set up this false god instead, who is more accessible, if gaudy, looking for some short term gain. Idolatry is a pretty serious sin in our tradition. Remember what’s next: Moses talks God out of wreaking any serious punishment on the people, but he himself burns the calf, grinds it into powder, scatters the powder on the water and makes them drink it, and then––if the writer is to be taken literally––tells the sons of Levi to go back and forth from gate to gate throughout the camp and kill your brother, your friend and your neighbor.[ii] Paul and Peter both bring it up again too in the New Testament, on par with sorcery, carousing, and drunkenness as well as associated with things like jealousy, strife, dissension and anger (Gal 5:20; 1 Pt 4:3). In the Letter to the Colossians he says greed is actually the same as idolatry. How many golden calfs do we have in our lives? Our idolatry may not be as gaudy or obvious as the Israelites’. It could be as simple as Augustine’s idea of disordered love: cherishing popularity more than integrity; clinging to our own comfort over the common good; falling back on the status quo rather than facing the challenge of the new life and new spirit that the Spirit offers. I heard someone else bring this example up once: perhaps we have experienced a moment of real love or even pure holy eros––but then we settle for lust. Maybe we have had moments of real bliss in our prayer and meditation, but then we get bored and restless (that nasty noonday devil, acedia) and drift off into killing time, filling the day with distractions. Maybe we could think back to our own initial fervor, that moment of conversion; but, as in some marriages, after some years it can all get a little humdrum and drab, and we start fantasizing about something (or someone!) more exciting––a golden calf of some sort. I was reminded of this from the letters of Abhishiktananda: Only one thing is real,...

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God’s work of art


Posted By on Mar 26, 2017

cyprian, 4th Sunday of Lent I would hazard to say that most of us here at some point have gone through some kind of conversion experience in our lives, maybe several times––an experience of a power-greater-than-ourselves, a turning point in our lives, a moment when we decided to give our lives over to God, or a moment when we dedicated our lives to the spiritual path, a moment when we come to realize that nothing else is going to satisfy us but “this.” And as Christians that conversion entails coming to understand that experience through Jesus, with Jesus, in Jesus, falling in love with the way of Jesus, a conviction when hearing or reading the Gospel, knowing in our heart of hearts that this way of Jesus, the way of servant-hood and kenosis has the ring of truth to it like no other way. And so, “I have decided to follow Jesus!” For the first Christians, the moment of conversion and the experience of baptism were inseparable. But I don’t think that’s true for most of us––especially us poor “cradle Catholics.” (It’s so un-hip to be a “cradle Catholic” these days!) We don’t usually think of Baptism as that moment of conversion. Most of us were baptized “as little red-faced humanoids” with no real conscious decision involved in it, no real movement of our hearts. So for us a conversion experience is often more of a deepening or, even better, a realization and an actualization of that unconscious baptismal commitment. Hence the season of Lent each year comes as an opportunity to realize and actualize that baptismal commitment for those of us who were baptized but never really converted. Even less do we tend to think of baptism as an “enlightenment experience.” Actually this is not a word––“enlightenment”––that I grew up with as a Christian. Whenever I heard it, it was usually associated with Asian mysticism. But, again, in early Christianity baptism was referred to as a photismos, which is usually translated as “illumination” or “enlightenment,” and it was experienced as a whole new way of seeing the world. For someone coming to believe in Christ, that enlightenment may most obviously be recognizing and acknowledging that Jesus is Lord, like the story of the man born blind that we heard today (Jn 9:1-41)––but that’s only the beginning! The experience of Jesus’ Paschal mystery is an enlightenment experience that changes everything––how we see ourselves, how we see others, and even how we see the world around us. That’s why the story of David is so interesting here today. I always try to overlook the fact that David was a ruddy...

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unless a grain of wheat


Posted By on Mar 17, 2017

(cyprian, for Emmanuel) There is one memory I have of Brother Emmanuel that will always be my favorite. It was one morning after Vigils––I think I was still a novice––and he and I were walking back down to the chapel together on the way to Lauds as we did most days. (Even as a young monk it did not seem to me to be a bad thing to break the Grand Silence when it came to Emmanuel. If he wanted to talk you just listen.) The moon was just setting in the sky as the sun was coming up. We had two dogs named Buddy and Scooter who adored Emmanuel, but for some reason only Scooter was with him that day. And Emmanuel looks up at that moon and then turns to Scooter and says, “Look at that moon, Scooter! I’m gonna put it in a box and show it to Buddy.” I want to say at that moment I was instantly enlightened, or at least I suspected that I was in the presence of a master of some sort, maybe a Christian shaman. The thing is, I could imagine him actually doing just that, putting that moon into a box and showing it to Buddy. If I were to write an icon of Emmanuel it would be of him holding a shoebox with the moon in it, showing it to a dog. St. Paul in both his letters to the Galatians and the Colossians warns against being enslaved to what he refers to as “the elemental spirits of the universe,”[i] and we certainly know as Christians that we are not supposed to worship them. But, on the other hand if St. Paul is writing about them, these elemental spirits of the universe, then we can safely assume that there actually are such things––elemental spirits, some kind of intelligence or even a rudimentary consciousness about natural created things. Certainly St. Thomas Aquinas thought that even animals and plants have some share in the soul or psyche. (And, oh, Emmanuel was so delighted about the fact that Pope Francis suggested that there might be dogs in heaven! I think he was dreaming of Buddy and Scooter greeting him with their tongues hanging out and their tails wagging, ready for a ride in the bucket of the skip loader.) And neither our scriptures nor the teaching of the church ever say that we don’t commune with these spirits, live in harmony with this intelligence and these elements. Now I realize that this sounds like a very New Age-y argument, but doesn’t Jesus himself command the sea and wind––and they obey him![ii]...

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Update, Friday, March 17, 2017


Posted By on Mar 17, 2017

We pretty much forgot all about St. Patrick today. Instead we welcomed Br. Emmanuel’s body back and planted him like a seed next to the chapel he loved so much. We did not advertise and encourage anyone to come due to the conditions of the roads and capricious nature of the construction, but most of our staff and several of our neighbors came, even a handful of kids, Merritt and Alicia’s and their cousin, Katee’s granddaughter Samantha. (I got them to do dishes!) Br. Timothy and Kevin, from our housekeeping staff, both good southern boys, cooked up a picnic type feast for us: fried chicken, deviled eggs, beans, potato salad and cornbread. Fr. Daniel and Br. David came up from San Luis Obispo very early this morning and James came up from San Luis Rey, where he is in school, last night. We had moved back into choir in chapel starting this morning with Vigils of the Office of the Dead. After several weeks of liturgies in the chapter room, it was a little startling to hear our voices resonating through the rotunda again. We had to re-acclimate ourselves to the space, remember where to sit and when to bow! Our other guest of honor was Fr. Shane, Emmanuel’s nephew who is a priest of the Archdiocese of St. Paul-Minneapolis, so we had a full choir. That’s the good news. The more sobering news is that we are undergoing another “hard close” on the road as permanent restoration of the road at Paul’s Slide is scheduled to begin next week. Paul’s Slide is the one just to the south of us; actually it is mostly on our property and only the toe of it is on the highway, which means Caltrans will be working on the bottom of our property that abuts Highway 1. (We had to sign a right of entry.) What we know so far is that during this construction, residents (and residents only) will have very limited access—possibly a half-hour window in the morning and the evening—but unfortunately no resupply/deliveries, not even the school bus, will be allowed to pass at any time. Work will be performed 24/7 as conditions allow. Nacimiento-Ferguson Road, over the mountain, might be open to the public within days. Luckily, we got a delivery of fuel and food––and the trucks arrived right at the end of Emmanuel’s funeral! Perfect tribute, two diesel trucks roaring by the chapel. Benedict and Zacchaeus are heading into SLO tomorrow to get all last minuet supplies and the we are on lock down again for a few weeks and, of course, still unable to accept guests....

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the temptation to grasp for power


Posted By on Mar 7, 2017

(1st Sunday of Lent, Year A: Gen 2:7-9, 3:1-7; Ps 91; Rom 5:12-19; Mt 4:1-11)   I was first inclined to approach the three temptations of Jesus that we read this week in the gospel as representing three separate things, as we often hear. I recall one teaching that associates the three of them with fasting, prayer and almsgiving, and another that associates them with poverty, chastity, and obedience. But perhaps all three of the temptations can be seen as all of a piece, one overriding temptation having to do with power. Think of it this way: the first temptation––to turn the stones into bread––was for Jesus to use his power for himself, like magic. In the second one––to cast himself down from the parapet: maybe it’s not that the devil is putting the Lord God to the test; perhaps he is tempting Jesus to put God to the test or, again, tempting Jesus to put his own powers to the test, like Icarus flying too close to the sun. And the third one––the invitation to worship the devil––is a choice about from whom or from what or from where Jesus was going to choose his power. But we can also look at this story in its liturgical context. Each of the three years we hear an account of the temptations––each year from a different evangelist, of course––and each year also against the background of a different reading from the Hebrew Scriptures as well as a different epistle. This year (Year A, which especially in Lent is the quintessential cycle of readings for the catechumenate) both of the ancillary readings to Matthew’s version are pointing us back to the original sin, or at least to our foundational myth about how sin came into the world––Eve, the serpent and the apple. I want to return once more to this idea that I got from the transpersonal psychologist Michael Washburn, that we come forth from God as if from the womb of possibility, from the dynamic ground of being (and consciousness). And we start on a trajectory in the normal course of growth toward becoming an independent generative person bursting forth with creative energy––developing an ego, developing a sense of ‘I, me, mine.’ Now you might say that that’s actually the real problem, this ego, this ‘I’ sense, but I think the ego gets a bad name, especially in spiritual circles. Our friend the Sufi teacher Kabir Helminski writes beautifully about this in his book Living Presence. He says that the ego “is a fundamentally positive energy,” and it has all kinds of positive qualities––“aspiration, diligence, responsibility, self-respect, discipline, integrity” all come...

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I feel so slow in a fast paced world… But here are my updates, one I meant to post Monday but got called away. Update, Tuesday, March 7, 2017 As most of you already know, our beloved Brother Emmanuel, age 89, died serenely early morning March 6 at the Windsor care facility in Monterey. He never fully recovered from what wound up being a heart attack two weeks ago. He had a host of visitors Sunday and they all said that he continued to be joyful to the end. I was bound and determined not to check my email before breakfast, but while I was writing something else on my computer Monday morning at about 6:15 AM the emails just started coming in to my mail program. I happened to notice a notification from Jana, our hospice nurse that was entitled “Emmanuel” and lucky I checked. With no way to call, she was informing that he had died at 4:40 that morning. I quickly let one or two of the monks know and then jumped in the car because the construction site at Paul’s Slide and the other at Nacimiento Ferguson Road both close hard at 7 AM. I was able to get through, got to spend some time with, and anoint and pray next to Emmanuel’s poor old beat up body. I also got see Gabriel in his new temporary housing in Salinas, and deal with a pile of paperwork for the both of them. Since there is little access to the Big Sur right now, there will be a public viewing for our local oblates and friends at Mission Mortuary, 450 Camino El Estero in Monterey, Friday March 10th from 4 to 8 PM, with a rosary at 6:45 and a Wake Service at 7. Pending road construction, we hope to bring his remains home as soon as possible for a funeral with the monks and staff who loved Emmanuel so dearly. Here is part of the official obituary. Richard Wasinger was born October 14, 1927 to a German speaking household on the family farm near Loretto, Kansas. In his last days he often spoke dreamily of Kansas and the wheat fields. He became a Benedictine monk, taking the name Joseph, at Holy Cross Abbey, Canon City, Colorado, making first vows in 1957. He then followed his novice master, Fr. Joseph Diemer, to New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur in 1965, seeking a more contemplative life. He was always a warm and friendly presence, and was very dedicated to the Eucharist, the Divine office, and also to the Rosary and Way of the Cross. He delighted in taking care of...

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Brother Emmanuel Wasinger (1927-2017)


Posted By on Mar 6, 2017

Our beloved Brother Emmanuel died serenely last night at the Windsor care facility, from complications of a heart attack and broken hip. He was cheerful to the end, his body giving out but his spirit never. Born October 14, 1927 on the family farm near Loretto, Kansas, he became a Benedictine monk at Holy Cross Abbey, Canyon City, Colorado. He then followed his novice master, Fr. Joseph Diemer, here to New Camaldoli for a more contemplative life in 1965. He has always been warm and friendly, dedicated to Eucharist, the Divine office, and also the Rosary and Way of the Cross, and he delighted in taking care of our diesel generator (which provides all our electricity) and planting corn and keeping our roads clear. We shall very much miss him, but know he is in God’s love now, and praying for us. Funeral arrangements will be announced, and he will be buried here in our cemetery, together with the monks and workers he knew so well, and with whom he is now celebrating...

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update sunday march 5


Posted By on Mar 5, 2017

Raniero, Jim Weston (our hired caregiver) and I took Br. Gabriel up to the Teichert townhouse in Carmel on Wednesday evening when we thought the shift was changing at Paul’s Slide, prepared to have to wait for up to an hour. But we actually were whisked immediately through. And then the long ride over the mountain on Nacimiento Ferguson Road after that crew got off work. The immediate reason for taking Gabriel up there was that we are running low on propane particularly up on the east side, and the infirmary is both the most dependent on propane and the biggest consumer of it. There were some other reasons as well, including being nearer to supplies and to Jana, our hospice nurse, concern about the possibly of another emergency, and dwindling energy here. I knew this was only a short-term solution, so Jim, Raniero and I sat down and mapped out possible scenarios and plans for the weeks ahead. The best solution seemed to be, as much as I did not like it, to get Gabriel placed in a skilled nursing facility again for a time, so Jim and I spent the better part of Thursday and Friday morning trying to put that in place. To make a long story short, at the last hour, just before I was to head back down to Big Sur, I made one more call and found out that there was a room available at a place in Salinas called Windsor Skyline. It was like a miracle. Raniero and Jim moved him in with the help of Jana on Saturday, and I am happy to report that Raniero was able to begin his Lenten solitude retreat at Vajrapani Center in Boulder Creek tomorrow. We have a month for Gabriel at Windsor, due to a generous donation from some religious women in Orange County, and then we can figure out what to do from there, but I certainly hope to bring him back home well in time for Easter. Emmanuel is well settled now into Windsor Monterey in Monterey. Our friend Joe Kordsmeier had visited him several times and was the first call on their list until we got up there, since we have been without phones. Emmanuel is very joyful and peaceful, and does not seem to be in a lot of pain (or at least, in typical fashion, will not admit to it). His cognitive functions come and go, but he knew who I was and sometimes asked about current things at the Hermitage, but a lot of the time he thinks he’s in Kansas (he talks about wheat a lot, quite...

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public and private


Posted By on Mar 2, 2017

I have been reading David Brooks’ marvelous book The Road to Character lately. These days, when the word “values” is thrown around rather cavalierly, I’ve been thinking a lot about the connection between our personal uprightness and social sin. In his chapter about the civil rights leaders A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, Brooks writes about why civil rights leaders were so captivated by the Book of Exodus. “The Israelites were led by a man, Moses, who was meek, passive and intemperate, and who felt himself inadequate to the task,” he says, and the leaders of the civil rights movement had to tackle these same issues: “how to reconcile passion with patience, [how to reconcile] authority with power sharing, [how to reconcile] clarity of purpose with self-doubt (133).” (What a great litany! Reconciling passion with patience / authority with power sharing / and clarity of purpose with self-doubt…) Especially those who are thrust into any kind of positions of leadership, be it ministry or parenthood, have to face this kind of tension all the time. Consider these other two biblical images: we don’t want to just be voices crying in the wilderness (Mt 3:3); we also want to be yeast in the dough (Mt 13:33), meaning who we are is just as important as what we proclaim from the rooftops (Mt 10:27). Without getting partisan about it, one of the reasons I bring this up is because in this country our new administration has stirred up so much debate about rights and values, and like never before we are seeing the fissure between diametrically opposed views of the world. And so many of our own oblates and friends are particularly fired up these days about social issues. It has made me reflect on the place of the contemplative in all of this. The topic of sin is not very popular these days, yet Brooks tries to find new vocabulary to call us to accountability.[1] On the one hand we need to acknowledge our own sinful nature. Just as we’ll never be able to see “the long chain of consequences arising from what we do,” neither can we understand “even the origins of our own impulses.” In other words, we are never as virtuous as we think we are, and our motives are never as pure in reality as they are in our own accounting. And yet, while we acknowledge that our motives may not always be pure and that we may wind up being corrupted by whatever power we manage to attain and use, it’s still “necessary to take aggressive action to fight evil and injustice (149),” as well...

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