Mount Calvary Monastery, Santa Barbara, CA
Br. Roy Parker, OHC
BCP – Proper 13 C – Sunday, August 05, 2007
Jesus does not say that it’s wrong to have ‘stuff’; he’s saying that it’s a wasted enterprise, a fool’s game, to acquire stuff and to desire things without a corresponding, overruling desire for God, the point made more obliquely by the first reading with its world-weary statement of the pointlessness of human enterprise viewed at the end of life.
The movie “Citizen Kane” makes the point in using the narrative of Ecclesiastes to describe the building of Hearst Castle: “I made great works; I built houses and planted vineyards for myself; I made myself gardens and parks, and planted in them all kinds of fruit trees . . . I also gathered for myself silver and gold and the treasure of kings and of the provinces . . . I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil.
The movie ends, of course, in poignant recognition that the only thing Citizen Kane ultimately longs for is the enchantment of a distant time, his innocence in childhood which connected him to the wonder and possibility eventually obscured by the hubris and life style engendered by wealth. The wonder and possibility of childhood innocence echoes the state of richness toward God emphasized by Jesus. Enchantment is a distant time.
The point of Jesus’ teaching is also conveyed in the collect for St. Francis Day: “Most high, omnipotent, good Lord, grant your people grace to renounce gladly the vanities of this world; that, following the way of blessed Francis, we may for love of you delight in your whole creation with perfectness of joy.” We pray for the grace to entirely renounce the vanities of this world and yet to delight in the whole creation, including the artifacts which human hands have made by the grace of God. Renunciation and delight in the same breath; how do we manage this?
The key to this puzzle is, for me, imaged by Alan Whittemore, one of our extraordinary forebears in the Order of the Holy Cross, who gave this picture in a retreat address to the community at West Park generations ago. Fr. Whittemore was illustrating how the active and contemplative life can coexist in a person by the metaphor of the circus act of a performer riding around the ring under the big top, standing astride two horses, one representing the active life, the other the contemplative life. The rider can maintain a balanced position on those horses and perform successfully, he emphasized, so long as the animals are galloping . . . galloping. He would add, from his experience as a rancher and handler of large beasts, that this circus act is also possible only because those horses know the rider and sense the rider’s affection for them.
That is, the successful living of the mixed life, as it was called, is possible only when both aspects are lived simultaneously at full tilt and with deep devotion. It, of course, echoes the reliable biblical wisdom: Whatsoever you do in word or deed, do it wholeheartedly as unto the Lord and not unto men.
Renunciation and delight co-existing, co-operating, active and contemplative co-existing, co-operating . . . how can these things be?
To slightly expand Alan Whittemore’s metaphor: Contemplative Horse is also Alpha Horse because groomed and fed at the time of morning before the heat of the day melts the manna which God provides for sustenance only then and at no other time. I put this in another way when trying to explain the Great Silence to weekend guests by quoting Rumi’s poem: “Today like every other day we wake up empty and scared. Don’t open the door to the study and begin reading. Take down the dulcimer. Let the beauty we love be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kneel and kiss the ground.” The Great Silence at home or abroad is your opportunity and invitation to take down the dulcimer and nourish the pre-logical levels of yourself, to do the beauty you love.
Contemplative Horse is Alpha Horse who teams up with Active Horse. In the nature of things Active Horse would be at a loss without Alpha Horse to give the cues and set the pace of the gallop, right? You’d think they were a matched pair, but Alpha-Contemplative gets the subtle privilege of the pre-dawn and directs Active where to head in when the time comes. And remember, both Alpha-Contemplative Horse and Active Horse, in the way of animals, love each other and would be miserable without the other.
This has not spoken specifically to the matter of the possessions necessary and appropriate to our lives. To do so, a couple of examples: Joseph Heller and Kurt Vonnegut were once on their way to a cocktail party in the mansion of an extremely rich man. As they approached Vonnegut asked Heller, “Joe, how does it feel to be going to a party in the house of a man who makes more in one day than the entire royalties you’ve earned in your whole life?” He replied, “But Kurt, I have something that he doesn’t have.” “What’s that?” “I know when I have enough.”
A personal example may be appropriate. Jazz has been important to me since I first played drums in a high-school band which included Don Ellis. I gave up my drum set upon entering the monastery, though not my conviction that “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing.” Thus you’ll understand the allure of Santa Barbara’s Used CD Store, “Morning Glory Music,” with its collection of used jazz CDs, the bargain prices of used merchandise, the opportunity to listen to a used CD before purchase and the provision to return such a disk for full refund within a week. The siren song of Morning Glory Music will sometimes be heard when I find myself downtown with time on my hands and pop into the store to look over the jazz and fantasize as people fantasize over ads in the New Yorker and recollect a misspent youth. Recently I came across a two-disk set of “Duke Ellington Live at the Blue Note” . . . omigod, omigod! Then I said to myself, “Parker, you have plenty of Ellington already in your collection which you rarely listen to; why would you want more?”
What is going on here? Complex issues, like the excellence of Ellington and wanting to associate with it, the enchantment of jazz as a symbol of my past, the thrift shop allure of the bargain price, but perhaps more to the point: a certain addiction to novelty. I did not buy the set and may just content myself with listening to some of it on my portable CD player which the shop allows. Still learning to ride the horses.