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A Personal Update, with Reflection


First, a caveat.  I feel like, without knowing what I'm about to write, this will degenerate into what one writer called "selfish introspection."  If that happens, please forgive.


Over the last two months we have gone from having 3 cats to 5, all Burmese.  This fact has been the center of my life since about the 1st of October.  I'll explain.


    Thumbnail image for Phil and Cece.jpg  Since April, we have been treating, and trying to deal with, terminal cancer in our first Sable Burmese, St. Cecelia, Cece for short.  Cece must be enjoying the prayers of her saintly patron; despite the fact that we have been told several times since April that she has only a month or so to live, she is still very much alive and kicking; she spent a good part of last night playing on the bed with her favorite green glitter ball, and is now assisting with this post, so I guess it's good that she doesn't know she's sick.


              Thumbnail image for P1010019.JPG  We have another Burmese, Ariel, also a Sable, whom we appropriately did not name after a saint.  Despite her faults, she is quite attached to two things in life, Bach (at right, listening to the Brandenburg Concerto on "her" iPod) and Cece.  With Cece it is almost in a mother daughter relationship and has been from the time we adopted her.  Cece is nine years old, Ariel is nearly four.  In July, Ariel came down with a severe upper respiratory infection that nearly killed her and finally settled in her eyes which nearly blinded her.  After a month of treatment, including a few days in kitty Intensive Care and a trip to a veterinary Ophthalmologist (yes, there are such are things), we arrived at the diagnosis if a herpes virus, treatable with Interferon eye drops and daily doses of L-Lysine. 


The third cat in the original trio is St. Philomena, Philly, a Platinum, a truly neurotic eleven year old, but physically healthy as a horse, who has managed to stay above the chaos and confusion of the last 90 days.  She could care less if the other two live or die.


Three or four months ago, knowing how bonded Ariel and Cece are, we thought it might be helpful to bring a kitten into the household in order to have someone to keep her company after Mom passes on.  Somehow, one kitten turned into two, Sts Felicity and Sarah, both Sable Burmese, and wouldn't you know it, Sarah promptly began going into convulsions immediately after eating only her third or fourth meal in our household.  Another trip to the vet Intensive Care unit, the determination that she needed an Endoscopy that could only be performed by the Veterinary Teaching Hospital at Colorado State University in Ft. Collins, a two hour drive north of here.  So, up to Ft. Collins we go.


They first did a video fluoroscopy and from that thought the problem to be a lack of motility in the esophagus; the prognosis did not look good.  There was one other test that could be performed, an endoscopy, but they weren't sure they had the instruments to do that on so small a kitten (she weighed 1 pound at the age of 3 months).  They finally got one from the Zoology department, did the test, and learned she had a stricture in her esophagus which could be treated with the insertion of a balloon in order to expand it, much like an angioplasty in humans.  She would live a relatively normal life after up to three of these procedures over the next 60 to 90 days.  She has now had two, the latest on Friday, the 21st.  She is eating well, and beginning to grow a bit, and, of course, become quite the little celebrity at the Vet School in Ft. Collins.  The hope is that as she grows her esophagus will expand and provide a more natural cure to her difficulties.


On top of all this, my wife and I have been trying to maintain busy schedules at work and keep the house straight and clean, plan for the holidays, and who knows what else.


I've been trying to reflect on all of this in light of what I've learned about St. Benedict and the Rule.  If there is anything that is central to Benedictine spirituality, it must be learning to listen, which means trying to see God's hand in every circumstance of life, no matter how mundane.  These events certainly haven't been mundane.


First, gratitude for life, even the life of a cat.  Cece is a real "people" kitty; she loves to be with us and will stay at our feet constantly, even at the risk of getting underfoot and being stepped on.  At the moment, she has given up assisting with this post and is just sitting quietly nest to me in my wife's desk chair.  I have often thought that it would be wonderful to have the degree of trust and love she shows for us in my relationship with God.  Just to be happy to sit quietly for a few minutes in His presence would be a great gift.


The experience with Ariel also teaches me to take nothing for granted.  We got the kittens thinking that we would have Ariel for many years and just assuming that Cece would be gone well before her.  There was a very real danger for a few days that she would die before Cece.  So much for the best laid plans.  I am reminded that my plans can very easily come to nothing when faced with God's plans.  The thing is, and this is quite a big part of what St. Benedict wished his monks to learn, is that it is now that is important and life is meant to be lived in the present moment.  We simply don't have tomorrow and God has given us so many gifts that can, and should be, enjoyed now, no matter the circumstances.


The kittens have reinforced this lesson.  When Sarah started having trouble, I was quite stressed about it.  I was worried for her, but more, for the additional disruption in my life, which I didn't feel I needed at the moment.  So, back to Lesson One from St. Benedict, learn to welcome every event in event in life.  Also, that I don't own anything in life, not even a kitten.  I finally put this all in the Good Lord's hands and have felt a good deal better ever since.

Short Takes

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Asus Eee

I purchased an Asus Eee "netbook" computer for personal use. The few of you who have been steady readers over the years know that I have used a Dana Palm type device for a long time. I liked it because it was light and relatively simple to use. Alas, as time has gone on, the Dana's biggest weakness, the rather small, dimly lit screen, became an insurmountable problem - the old eye just couldn't handle it anymore. I looked at several of these mini-laptops, even going so far as to order the Dell Mini-9, which Dell seemed unable to deliver, even after nearly a month of waiting. When it became obvious that the Dell wasn't coming any time soon, I checked out, read several reviews, and decided on the Asus Eee 1000.

The Asus meets the Dell in terms of size and weight, comes with a real 160g hard drive, built in camera, lacking on the Mini-9, Bluetooth capability, and came with Open Office pre-installed, It was ready to go right out of the box. Best of all, costs over $100 less than the Dell. With its bright, clear, color screen, it seems a suitable replacement for the Dana. About the only negative is that the right shift key is very small, the size of a normal keyboard key, and a bit awkwardly placed, but I should get used to that quickly enough.

Inclusive Language

I've started on a book by Norveen Vest called Preferring Christ, which is a commentary on the Rule of St. Benedict. It has two strikes against it. First, the format of the book. It presents a short section of the Rule, followed by a "Commentary" section, then a "Reflection" section. The idea is to encourage the reader to read through the Rule as lectio. The problem is, when I read Scripture, or the Rule as lectio, I'm stubborn enough, and old fashioned enough, to want to do the meditation myself, without prompting. For me, an introduction with examples of the methods she wishes to introduce to the reader would have been more helpful.

The second problem is, in my opinion, worse. Ms. Vest has, apparently, modified the language of the Rule in certain places to make use of inclusive language. Its not necessarily that I object to inclusive language, the problem is that I object to putting inclusive language in the mouths, or on the pages, of authors who wrote long before our more politically correct era. A monk who wrote fifteen hundred years ago did not use inclusive language, or even think of it and it seems unfair to someone long dead to change what he wrote. It seems especially problematic when that author is considered one of the great saints of the Church and has been read in the original all this time. It seems a bit arrogant to assume that Benedict would want his language changed for him, and Ms. Vest is not the first modern editor to do so. I think this practice puts us in danger of losing touch with who these authors really were by trying to model them after ourselves. Enough said.

The Election

For the last two or three weeks I have spent far too much time worrying about the current state of the coming election. It finally dawned on me that I needed to step back and try to take a more Benedictine and Christian view of things and I tried to firm up in my own mind what that might be. It is, primarily, to remember that our future in all things rests in God's sure hands and my worrying isn't going to change that. I simply don't know what will happen tomorrow, much less what will happen next year, no matter who the president is. The government cannot be thought of as the source of our well being or happiness, that is in God's hands.


I had a bit of a shock yesterday. During my time in "the Nam", I was stationed for a time at a place called Lai Khe, which is about 40 miles north of Saigon, if memory serves. At the time I was there it was headquarters the 1st Infantry Division and was the base for Sidewinder FAC, the Air Force unit I was attached to and bustling with activity. On Thursday, with a few minutes to spare at lunch, I decided to Google Lai Khe, with no idea what I would find. What I found was pictures on a "Donut Dolly" web site of the place at roughly the time I was there, which brought back memories of the place as it was. The shocker came when I also happened on some pictures taken by a 1st Infantry vet who had returned to Lai Khe a couple of years ago. Apparently, most of the base has been torn down, and one picture even showed that the runway of the airfield and the area surrounding it overgrown with trees and grass. A market of some kind had apparently been built on one end of it. All that was left was a rather long, dirt strip. It kind of took the wind out of my sails; I don't know why I had assumed that the places I knew thirty or more years ago would remain unchanged, but I guess I had. It was shocking to see the place empty and in danger of being swallowed by the jungle. Many aspects of my time over there are nearly fresh in my memory, and to see such a vivid demonstration of time passing by was eye-opening, to say the least.

Tiger Stadium


Demolition has begun on old Tiger (formerly Briggs) Stadium in my hometown, Detroit. I remember attending many games there when I was growing up, including Detroit Lions football games in the fall. I saw Mantle and Maris play, Whitey Ford pitch along with the stars of one of the Tiger's best seasons, 1961. That would be Stormin' Norman Cash, Al Kaline and the rest. If there is baseball tradition in Detroit, it lives in Tiger Stadium. It was a beautiful old park and its a shame to see it go.

Another suprising thing to me is that, looking at the web sites of the major Detroit papers, there seems to be relatively little interest in the loss of the old place; the demolition is not receiving major coverage. One aspect that is receiving coverage is the apparently failing attempt by a private group to save part of the stadium from destruction. The papers seem to almost be gloating over the failure to raise sufficient funds to prevent total demolition.

Part of me wonders, why should anyone do this? The ballpark is hardly in a good part of town, but even if that were not the case, what use could now be made of it? But, I also wonder if the papers' lack of enthusiasm for saving Tiger Stadium is an indication of the current day disdain for anything that smacks of tradition: out with the old, in with the new, whether or not the new is an improvment. This current disdain is most graphically displayed in the unfathomable rush by a major political party in this country to nominate a man for President who has no discernable qualifications for the job, other than an expressed desire for "change."

For me, I'll take tradition anytime.



Several months ago, I came to a startling realization and I have been trying to work it out ever since. It came about as a result of working on a writing exercise, “Describe your idea writing spot.” I began thinking about that and realized I would first have to start by describing a region, the southwestern United States, specifically, northern New Mexico. I think most great writers are defined by the region of the country they called their own. Think of Dickens and you think of 19th century London, Faulkner and you picture the south, Flannery O’Conner, the same. John Steinbeck is inseparable from Salinas and Monterrey, California, even though he lived his last years in New York. Nathaniel Hawthorne brings up vivid pictures of Salem, Massachusetts. You get the idea. Location, setting, plays a prominent role in most great literature going right back to Scripture. Think about many important events in the Bible – often we are given detailed descriptions of the place where the scene occurs while the people involved go unnamed. Think of the story of the road to Emmaus; we know the name of one of the travelers, but not both. Yet, we know exactly where the road to Emmaus is.

My region would be northern New Mexico; the land haunts me, it is beautiful and stark at the same time. There is no reason that man should survive there, yet there have been American Indian tribes there for ages unknown. The architecture of the place is unlike that anywhere else, the adobe buildings seem to grow up from the ground, as if planted from seeds. It is also full of spirits that seem almost tangible, from those of the Native Americans to those of the first friars to explore the land from Spain; their presence seems to permeate the land, especially their old mission churches near Santa Fe and Taos. When I go into the mission at Taos, I can still see those friars who braved all kinds of danger to bring Christ to the New World, doing so out of great love, both for Christ and the native people they encountered, despite the bum wrap they get today. Their love shows in the Churches they built and the art that fills them.

Location is inescapable for any writer; a story without a setting is no story at all.

While I thought about all this, I came to recall my own conversion to the Church. The recollection was sparked when I stumbled across a book in my library that I had long forgotten about. It is by Fr. Michael Casey titled Sacred Reading¸ about the ancient monastic art of lectio divina, prayer while reading and meditating on Scripture. Lectio, a key element of monastic spirituality, played a critical role in my own conversion because it provided a bridge between the supposed sola scriptura foundation of my Presbyterian youth and the Church. Through the Scriptural foundation of lectio, I saw that faith in the Church, no less than in Protestantism, truly is founded on Scripture. It made straight my path to Rome. Then I remembered that one of the monastic vows made by monks is stability, the promise to remain tied to a certain monastery, a certain location, for life. Then I realized this is the exact opposite of the Franciscan spirituality of the mendicant, the roamer, the friar tied to no specific location.

This all hit me like a lightening bolt. For some time, I have felt that there was something amiss in my trying to follow the spirituality of the Franciscan Third Order, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. Suddenly, here was the answer. Location has always played an important part in my own life; I chose to live in west Texas because I loved the land and wanted to be a part of it. I can’t say I feel quite as strongly about Colorado, but I do love the mountains, the exact opposite of the desert. The mountains are an inescapable feature of life here in the Springs.

I realized I had to explore this further, to see if it was real. I have made contact with the Camaldolese in Big Sur about their Oblate program and hope to spend regular time each day this Lent returning to the practice of lectio and reading and meditating on the Camaldolese Oblate Rule. I feel I must come to fully understand monastic spirituality and what it could mean for me.

I don’t know where all of this leads, but I feel it is highly important to follow the trail wherever it goes, even if it leads (figuratively) to a hermit’s cell in the desert. I just wish the desert could be in northern New Mexico.

I'm a Klutz


I ask for your prayers; on Monday I tripped and fell and dislocated and fractured my right shoulder. I had surgery, which was successful, on Tuesday evening but face some time with my arm in a sling. There is a chance that in a couple of years I will need a shoulder replacement.

On This Rock


I haven’t posted in quite a while, mostly owing to spending nearly five out of the last ten weeks in Germany. I made two trips on business, one in the latter part of September for about 10 days, one in October for nearly three weeks. It is taking me some time to get back in my normal groove.

I had never been to Germany before; the truth is, I hadn’t really had much desire to go there, but I’m glad I had the chance and I found my time there interesting. The German people were almost universally friendly and helpful, I seldom ran into the stereotypical, gruff, unfeeling, Prussian type. Language was a bit of a barrier, but even then, most Germans, especially in the restaurants, spoke at least a little English, and with my fledgling attempts at German, we managed to survive. Of course, the beer was excellent. I became a real devotee of Heffe Weisen, a wheat beer that, I’m told, is the only beer served cold in Germany. Oh yes, then there is the Autobahn. You haven’t quite lived until you’ve driven at nearly 200 kph and been passed by a big Audi or Mercedes as if you doing 55 on the Interstate here in Colorado.

The cultural state of Germany is one of contrasts. There is little visible sign of faith anywhere, except . . . The exception is that Church bells in nearly every town ring on the quarter hour, day and night. Churches, in fact, are, in most towns, among the most prominent landmarks.

I attended Mass, the first Sunday I was there, in a German parish in Vierheim, there being no English masses available. The church itself was, I guess, at least 200 years old. Inside, the ceiling seemed so high as to be invisible with great stone columns reaching to heaven. There was an altar piece, the first one I have ever seen, that I thought looked like something from the 17th century, and the pews were nothing more than wooden boards stretched over straight wooden frames. This was a church built in a time when worship was serious business. The parish did have a modern sound system, Bose, I believe, as one concession to the twentieth century, if not the twenty-first.

The congregation seemed, as you might expect, nearly as old as the church. I don’t believe there were more than a few present under the age of 45 and perhaps only one family with children. The priest was close to, if not actually upon, the age of retirement. It was very noticeable, however, that everyone dressed more formally than we are used to here at home. Nearly all the men wore jacket and ties, if not suits, and the ladies skirts and dresses. I wish we could re-establish that custom in my parish. I will also say that the Church was nearly full. I thought that a good sign.

The Mass, an anticipated Mass on Saturday afternoon, did not seem to follow the order that I am familiar with. There were hymns. They were not, mind you, the tasteless treacle that we get so often in the States, but stately, tradition ones, inserted at odd places, for example after the opening prayer. There were only two readings, one from “Isaias” and one from the Gospel. During the Creed, one section of those in attendance, about a quarter of the people, very pointedly remained seated. I don’t know what that was about but I wasn’t comfortable with it. Also, perhaps because of the age of those in attendance and the austere design of the pews, there was little kneeling, only during the consecration and just after.

In spite of the atmosphere of antiquity of both man and building, there was one hopeful sign. Assisting at Mass was a young deacon, perhaps just newly ordained. He was the one show of youth in the entire celebration of the Mass and, I thought, just where it needed to be. I could not help thinking of Jesus words to Peter, “And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Mt 16:18 ESV) It seems as long as there is the barest presence of the Church anywhere, she will not be overcome. Even when things seem bleakest, in a parish that would seem be facing extinction in the very near future, there is found a sign of renewal and new life to carry on the Truth. We will not be abandoned; the Church will not be overcome.

A Brief Update


I should provide a brief personal update for the interval from my last post.

When I wrote that post, I didn’t intend to quit posting here altogether: I intended to put on record only that I’d try to cover items of real interest and import. I was simply trying to affirm that writing here was important to me for some reason I still do not understand. Then, life set in.

About three weeks ago, a new job opportunity appeared that was highly attractive and quite unexpected, I think for my new employer as well as for me. Anyway, a job was offered and accepted. Then there was the typical three week transition from old employer to new with the training of prospective replacement, “in-processing” to the new company and a highly accelerated introduction to the new job. It has been a hectic, almost dizzying three weeks.

Now comes a period of travel, two days this week in Norfolk, Virginia, then two weeks in, are you ready, Germany. I know, it’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. I’ve never been to Germany so I am curious to visit and see what the country is like. I hope I am able to meet the physical challenge of the trip, but the fact of a somewhat extended stay should mitigate the rigors of traveling, which are quite real for me now that I am a little advanced in years. I think the Norfolk trip will actually be harder, it coming just before the flight to Germany is a bit daunting, I have to admit. In any case, I am looking forward to seeing a new country.

I hope to be able to get a couple of posts in over the next three weeks, especially a picture or two from Germany, but just not sure what the schedule will bring in terms of internet connections.

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