June 06, 2007
In The Steps of St. Francis
Cross at dawn...outside of the chapel of Little Portion Retreat Center at More Mountain, Eureka Springs AR
I went away this past weekend to a retreat at the Little Portion Retreat Center in Eureka Springs. The Retreat Leader was the wonderful John Michael Talbot
who has a myspace page that is fun to look at so I have linked it up. If you are into Contemporary Christian Music you will love all of the other notables that have commented and "friended up" JMT, so you can see their links too. I cannot begin to express the impact this man has had on my life for years and years and to have him practically as a neighbor is wonderful.
Our Retreat Master John Michael leading us in worship
You can see by how John Michael he is dressed that this is not an average guy. He stops people in their tracks at bus stations and airports. He took the Franciscan habit and manner of life some 30 years ago. He lives a life of total evangelical poverty...meaning that he has a lot of things in his life that make him not poor, but in fact he would tell you he owns nothing. He has made, Im sure millions, in his life as a musician, but has given all of it away. Instead of the limelight he lives the life of a religious hermit, spending a large part of his time in prayer and solitude, and when not doing that living a life of service to others... a well balanced existence...
The retreat was on the life and legacy of St. Francis. I am not a scholar and know only what I have read of the life of this man of God, but he captures the imagination as his day was not unlike our own and Francis chose the life of living with no stuff rather than following in the footsteps of his father who was a very wealthy self made man...
me at Little Portion standing next to a bias relief sculpture of St Francis in the herb gardens. Once 60 members strong this community like many others has seen fewer vocations, and doesnt have themanpower to sustain large gardens. They are now raising free range organic chickens to support themselves, rather than growing produce. They were once considered the best organic produce farm in Arkansas.
The first discussion was on the actual life of Francis, debunking myths and trying to understand and place him in a historical and religious context. Then focusing on the major teachings known as the Evangelical Counsels of Poverty, Chastity and Obedience. ...Gospel poverty, which again means not so much not having anything but rather doing without something for the sake of another having what you could have taken. We can all agree with one statement that stuck with me, that we live in a society that is so focused on gratifying every desire, every want... that we don't know what it is we truly need anymore. Without pointing a finger at anything we could all look at modern life and say this of ourselves. We have so satiated ourselves with our desires that we have starved out our needs, and in turn perhaps deprived another of the chance to get their needs met. I have mixed feelings about expanding this to the world poverty situation the way he does, because I think that we have a lot of corrupt governments in the business of keeping their people starving, like Mexico for example, or better still the horror of Darfur.
Much of the trouble in our home is exactly what this is getting at. I very much doubt that Woody knows what he needs, he gratifies pretty much every whim I know of. I am not much better but there was a time when I was not as bad as now. I realized this late last year as I was charging up a storm and buying stuff that really wasnt needed... So in response I am trying to do less of everything that involves spending or using more than I need, and trying to find out what that means...Working on my weight, cutting back and nearly eliminating spending and debt. Paying off my van... I got the title to that today...And, as we are making plans to change our lives as far as our relationship goes, not buying but rather selling some of our possessions so that things will be easier and more equitable between us. These are the types of things that were discussed under the topic of Poverty
Chastity is thought to mean the absence of sex, but it is a way of thinking that holds the moral high ground if the face of the onslaught of moral depravity we see everyday in our lives. For me it meant that making this change to nights so that a certain married man here at work spends less time hanging around my desk and causing loose talk, is a way to maintain the moral high ground. It means turning the channel when garbage is on, or not reading books that are little more than verbal pornography. I am always surprised at the number of "Christian Romance" novels that are nearly as trashy as the "regular" kind...
St. Francis saw himself as a true knight. He had been in the military service of a prince and the Pope and was a young man caught up in the age of Chivalry. His views on the capabilities and mores of woman were much higher than his peers. This is evidenced in his writings and in biography. He felt that immoral behavior was not to be tolerated especially in the church. There is no evidence he ever had a relationship with his lady followers as is sometime suggested.
The third counsel is perhaps the hardest. True obedience isnt just a military "Yes, Sir-No Sir" sort of thing. Its bending your will, even breaking your will to that of your superior. John Michael is the Superior of a religious community
, perhaps of of the most extraordinary communities in the US. It is the only one that has mixed vocations, but more on that some other time. My point was he deals with all sorts of people and its true of all of us. Everyday we need to bend our wills to those that God has placed over us. For me its Woody, who while he is my husband and doies have authority over me he so seldom makes the hard decisions that its hard for me to bend when he does... and lately I am glad that I havent because I am not sure what is driving him these days...but one thing is sure...its not God... and of course for me my employer is one that I find that I have had trouble with in this area but when I gave in and put my mind to working being committed to "thisplace " as my job and put my heart into the work it has gone much better for me.
brother Andrew ringing the chapel bells, This gentle man puts his heart and soul into every task I see him perform.
Its also doing what you know is right and not sitting around until you have to do something. I find that I am at this point spiritually. I will be starting to attend Mass regularly and if it all works out, I will be entering the Roman Catholic Church. One of my great heroes in the faith, Elisabeth Elliot Gren, admonished me from the deepest recesses of my mind this weekend. As JMT was talking about Obedience, her voice sternly reminded me that "Delayed obedience is disobedience". I have been waiting for the right time. Its time. I will likely lose the rest of my family and the few friends from California that I have left, however I know that this is what I want to do.
bell tower at Little Portion Monestery
I stood in that chapel surrounded by the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, both Consecrated and Domestic, as well as the other retreatants,... they were just the most amazing group of people, a full half were not Catholic, and there were three pastors among them searching for the truth of this unique presentation of the ancient faith. You would never know that this was a Catholic Mass, until the liturgy of The Word was over and the liturgy of the Eucharist began... ( it was first saturday night so there were "smells and bells" and the Gloria too)We sang the original music John Michael wrote for the Mass, which they say they never grow tired of, and we received...
"Lord, I am not worthy to receive You, but just say the word and I will be healed.
How I long for that.
I long for a deeper more radical commitment to God. I think that I have found it in the steps of St. Francis. When a person is interested in getting involved with a monastic order they are invited to "Come and See"... I am in that place of looking and seeing. May God grant me the humility and the courage to follow my heart on this, as I seek only His truth for my life.
the sheeprun near Holiday Island
Labels: Faith, John Michael Talbot, Little Portion