I arrived here in 1972, and became one of the first two brothers in 1974, when the community was very small. These forty years have been filled with challenges, changes, growth and maturation, with all the inevitable ups and downs of life. I've always loved singing in a group, have been greatly blessed to have been in Gloriae Dei Cantores for many years. I’m also passionate about the study and singing of Gregorian chant. I have a dog - or rather the brotherhood has a dog - named Blu, for which I am the caretaker. Blu and I seem to have a lot in common – for instance, we both think our way is the best way. Other things I really enjoy are hard work, jogging, the God-bless-'em Red Sox and New England Patriots, our own Spirit of America Band, being with my 25 brothers, listening to top notch singing, and reading good poetry - or anything else particularly well written.
For a while, as I’ve crisscrossed the paths of our community, I’ve been quite struck by how completely everything has changed over the years. Gardens, lawns, driveways, homes, retreat houses, maintenance buildings, even trails in the woods — nothing is the same as it was. Everything has undergone some sort of change over the years. Often behind that first thought, is something I heard many years ago: that Christ will eventually make everything in our lives new, if we allow him to. Everything. That, of course, is good news. Really fantastic news.
I recently had the privilege of singing Schubert’s Ave Maria at my nephew’s wedding, at the Holy Name Cathedral in Chicago. It was a beautiful and moving service in a number of ways, one of which was the wholehearted participation in the Mass by the many young men. From the start it seemed that they all had a strong bond and some history together. But it also felt like something beyond the normal post-college camaraderie – a certain shared unity, strength and commitment. As an example, at one point during the prayer of consecration I noticed the man next to me raising his hands in quiet praise. Then a few moments later it all came into focus when he reached over to take my hand as the Lord’s Prayer began. As I looked around all of them were joining hands as well.
The brothers have been hard at work renovating our cow barn. These are really great times for us, all working together to get a big job done. It’s a time when older brothers pass on skills to younger brothers: like digging out, forming up, and pouring a foundation footing; or mixing mortar and laying concrete block; or putting in a new drainage system; plus all the quirky carpentry for retrofitting an old barn. A number of us have spent years working in this barn caring for the animals, going back to the early 70’s when it housed a horse and a herd of goats. It’s part of our history, and we hope it will be with us for many years to come.
One of our oldest members, Dean, died very recently. We praise God for his life, and ask God’s special blessing, comfort, and grace on his wife, two daughters, and his son.
One of our monastic customs is to take turns keeping vigil with the coffin in the church, for the day and night before the funeral. On Sunday, as all 250+ of us were accompanying the body of this faithful one into the church, I happened to look up through the great doors and see the bronze Angel of the Church of the Transfiguration looking down on us from atop the bell tower. I was suddenly struck with the type of awe and gratitude that sometimes comes in these “thin places” in life. There must, indeed, be holy ones keeping watch over all of us together, and each of us personally. Our weakness and strength, our sin and repentance, our joys and sorrows, our deepest sickness and our God-given health, are all gathered into Christ’s infinite love – bringing us, each one, safely home.
“. . . and when he’s fussing because he doesn’t want to be back in his crate, I’ll get down on the floor next to him and pretend that I’m going to sleep with him. He always settles right down and goes to sleep. Then I just slip away…” I was proudly telling the vet how I calmed Blu, when I had to leave him for the afternoon or evening. Before I was finished, the vet was shaking her head no. “Really?” (I figured she just didn’t understand.) “He’s trained you to do that. He might even be telling you that you belong down there with him. Next time, give him a toy, and walk away.”
Is it a coincidence that Blu’s demands, and his creativity in expressing them, rivals my own? Maybe its a little how parents feel sometimes with their children….
The day he arrived, Blu, in his rambunctiousness, misjudged his first step and skidded down the steps on his stomach. No fun at all, especially because the edges of the granite were a little sharp, and at eight weeks old he was away from his mom for the first time. And he was already exhausted.
For a long time after that he mistrusted almost every stair that he had to go down. More often than not, each step was studied then negotiated very purposefully. Unfortunately, this approach led to a couple of more minor mishaps, which only seemed to strengthen his opinion that he couldn’t be too careful with stairs. We knew he wasn’t generally fearful. He was already launching himself full-bore onto our much larger five-year-old Toller, just to incite a little fun and excitement.
One day Blu was racing back and forth across our refectory. Typically, he misjudged things a little, and ended up running up the long stairway. He looked around, and there he was at the top of the stairs. It sure looked like “OOPS!!” may have crossed his little face. With the next breath he headed back down almost as fast as he had come up. And, of course, it was a successful descent. I wanted to pick him up and say, “There! See? You can do stairs. Just stop thinking about it and trying so hard.”
A quotation from Ray Bradbury, that I saw at the kid’s home-school open house last night put it perfectly: “Don’t think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It is self-conscious and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can’t try to do things. You simply must do things.”
Little Blu had his first big reality check last week when it was time to start on a leash. As he slid and skidded across the wood floor in the Brothers’ friary in his little harness, it was obvious he had better ideas. Then, as I struggled with the little guy across the lawn on walk after walk, I found myself saying, “You can either continue to dig in your heels and be frustrated – or you can give up and enjoy this.” Then that was followed by another thought: “Whoa — Is it possible? I’m just like Blu.”
Meet Blu, the Brother’s 9 week-old Lab who mostly plays, eats, sleeps – and chews! He adores his new buddy, Hunter, our five year-old New Brunswick Duck Toller. He’s made a seamless adjustment from his litter to our much bigger pack of 26 brothers at the Friary. So far, he’s never met a person he wasn’t thrilled about, and everything about life is new, exciting and perfect.