30 settembre festa di san girolamo Ciao tutti! The open week of the General Chapter concluded today. It has been a good, full week. The best part of it all of course is being with our monks and nuns from all over Italy, and some from other parts of Europe and the world as well––Africa, India, China, Brazil. Our speaker yesterday made a special note of this. She was speaking of that turn that Karl Rahner had noted––from a European church to a world church. (Remember Bruno made much of this as well.) And this woman yesterday was pretty impressed that for such a small congregation we would have such an impressive presence throughout the world, and in places where real cultural and religious dialogue necessarily take place. I’ve been staying up at the Sacro Eremo since I arrived Sunday. Thanks be to God, it was a very smooth flight across the Atlantic last Saturday and Sunday. (I am a total weeny when it comes to air turbulence, I’m not proud to say.) I had really nothing at all to do for the first two and a half days here at Camaldoli, so I just slept, walked in the woods, crammed myself full of Italian, and basically got over jet lag. By the time we started up Wednesday evening I felt pretty much “here and now––qui ed adesso.” The Prior General, Alessandro, gave a rather long but very powerful opening conference Wednesday on the problems facing the world right now, and then on our response to it. I was glad to see him address again some of the issues that he brought up in his letter convoking this General Chapter. It was also interesting that for all of his involvement and interest in current affairs and modern currents of thought, he still thinks the first solution we Camaldolese have to offer is our contemplative life, our fruitful silence and solitude as moments of encounter with God and one another and the All. We then had a very dense presentation by a New Testament from Rome named Romano Penna on Easter as the Fundamental Event of the Christian Faith, in two parts. Actually, it was in three parts because after the speakers end both sections of their presentation there is always an hour (it goes over most of the time…) of interventi e domande–comments and questions (short speeches and provocations!). It was a very fine presentation and very dense. There was a last minute cancellation for Thursday afternoon. A certain Pierfrancesco Stagi, professor of philosophy from Turin (and Freiburg), was supposed to speak to us on the current relevancy of...

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I used to have a really bad problem with sleep, where I would wake up after only an hour or two and then not be able to get back to sleep. Luckily the local NPR station used to play the BBC from 10 PM until 4 AM, because that was the only thing that could lull me back to sleep. There was something about the sound of that BBC style voice that was so comforting! But I think it was partly also due to the fact that they were always talking about people, situations and places that I didn’t know anything about, so I would get a little bored and just zone out. It wasn’t until after my first visit to England that I actually really listened to the BBC and saw their newscasts on TV and really started paying attention. And the thing that struck me was again how most of the things they were reporting were about people and situations that I was only vaguely familiar with and places that I often couldn’t even locate on the map. However, that’s when I had the realization that the problem was me––and how insular and parochial American news usually is! If it’s not about New York or Chicago or somewhere in California or even Columbus, Ohio I used to just turn off: “What does that have to do with me?” Part of the immense benefit of traveling around the world in ministry for ten years was how much it broadened my worldview. Now the BBC makes sense, and it’s one of the things you can count on anywhere in the world. The reason I bring that up is because this is one of those gifts that Ignatius brings to us, to our community, and to our prayer. So often I’ve noticed that while we’re praying for our own needs and intentions, Ignatius is offering prayers for the people of Mogadishu (which is the capital of Somalia, by the way, a little country south of Ethiopia on the east coast of Africa on the Indian Ocean), or for the Rohingya Muslims fleeing Burma, or for the ethnic cleansing going on in Nigeria where the Muslims are being sheltereded in a seminary and defended by the local bishop. Besides this wider optic of the world that Ignatius got not growing up in Columbus, Ohio, his years working for social services in London have given him a heart that is especially sensitive to the little ones, the outcasts, the persecuted. Ignatius and I were negotiating back and forth via email about what date to celebrate his solemn vows, and he suggested September...

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adaptive challenges


Posted By on Sep 15, 2017

  (This was my homily for September 11th.) There was a beautiful but enigmatic line in the first reading for Mass on September 11th this year, from Paul’s Letter to the Colossians: In my flesh I am completing what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.[i] After all these years I still am not sure what that means, but on a day such as the one when we remember again, as we do each year, the terrorist attacks of 2001, I can feel it in my own body. I have returned so many times to this wonderful workshop that I attended on monastic leadership a few years back, and I was reminded of one more theme from it as we commemorate the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in 2001. And that theme is the difference between a technical solution and an adaptive challenge. A technical solution is what you need when something is broken. If the plumbing is blocked, you call in a plumber. If the electricity goes down, you call an electrician. The Internet goes down, call the IT guy, etc., etc. On the other hand sometimes a situation occurs where a technical solution is not really going to be a solution to a problem but only be a stopgap, a quick fix, a Band Aid. Those are adaptive challenges, when we have to say, “Maybe this is not supposed to be fixed. Maybe something needs to die so that something new can be born. Maybe something else is trying to evolve. Maybe we have to change. Maybe we’re never going back to the way things were. Maybe there is a new normal.” Adaptive challenges require innovation and new learning. They also involve loss and grief, and require a shift of heart and soul. The questions we ask are, “Who has to learn what? Who has to lose what?” And it’s a problem when we try to apply a technical solution to an adaptive challenge, trying to fix something that can’t––and maybe shouldn’t be––fixed. I think what we have discovered in re-discovering ancient medicine, homeopathic, Ayurvedic, and Chinese herbal medicine, for instance, is that we in the West at some point came to think of medicine and health too as technical solutions rather than adaptive challenges. Illnesses there will always be, but how many health problems could be solved by a change of lifestyle rather than pills, needles and knives? But instead we usually go to the doctor and say, “Just fix me!” And one of the other examples given of this is war itself. War is usually a technical solution,...

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