Sunday, April 08, 2007

Publish or Parish

Mercifully, friends have stopped asking me when the book or two I've threatened to write over the last few years will be finished. Every time I'm asked about my writing, I feel a sharp pain of remorse and a sense of inadequacy for having failed to published more. There are extenuating circumstances to be sure, but they do not amount to a full justification. In God's good time maybe something publishable will emerge from my work.

In the meantime, as much as I love to write, and I truly do, for me there is no more rewarding experience than visiting in person and speaking with those, like myself, who are eager to deepen their faith and bring it to maturity. In my work on behalf of the Cornerstone Forum -- and especially in our Emmaus Road Initiative project -- I have the great privilege of looking into the faces of those with whom I am in conversation, a privilege a writer doesn't often enjoy.

Even when I do most of the talking -- which is typically the case at the Emmaus Road Initiative gatherings -- what happens on these occasions is dialogical. There is an exchange, not just during the discussion period but in less tangible ways throughout. Those who speak publicly will understand this.

St. Joseph's Abbey Church

I am a member of a local parish here in North Brookfield, but what actually functions as my parish on a day-to-day basis is the Cistercian monastery down the road where I commune with my fellow "parishioners" exclusively in silence and liturgical song. As a practical matter, it is on my speaking trips that I experience ordinary "parish life" in a rich variety of forms, always of course as an itinerant. I am profoundly grateful for the opportunity my work provides for gathering -- however intermittently -- with those for whom I come to feel a real fellowship and a genuine affection.

It became clear to me as I mourned for Liz during Lent that it is here in the home that Liz loved so that I feel her presence most powerfully. So much so that I hardly feel as though I am living alone. As it does at St. Joseph's Abbey, the silence is the medium of a communion. Having said that, however, it is also true that I now feel Liz's presence wherever I am. And now that this is the case, I will not need to minimize the traveling and speaking I do on behalf of the Cornerstone Forum, as I did when Liz was waiting for me at home and most especially during her illness. As I told my friend and Cornerstone Forum colleague, Randy Coleman-Riese, I can now pour myself out like a libation. In fact, I can think of nothing I would rather do, not least because of the opportunities it provides to be an occasional participant in the "parish life" of those whom I am privileged to visit.

Those are but the ancillary benefits of my work. The main purpose, to quote from our web page, is "explore the collaboration between theology and anthropology, a collaboration which can lead the young to a new appreciation for Christianity, contribute to the re-evangelization of the Christian faithful, and encourage Western culture to recognize the indispensability of its religious patrimony." It might seem at first odd to try to further aspirations that ambitious by organizing relatively small monthly gatherings in a half-dozen or so locations around the country. In fact, however, the logic -- the logos -- of this approach is quintessentially apostolic and Pauline.

In the background material for the Emmaus Road Initiative series we expressed that logic in a rather mundane idiom. Taken again from our website:
Years of experience with cassette tapes, CDs, and videos has taught us how spontaneously our work tends to move out beyond the limited face-to-face gatherings in which it originates. So while the Emmaus Road Initiative begins in a number of relatively small gatherings congenial to discussion, dialogue and the building of friendships, the sessions are recorded, and thanks to today's technologies of distribution (CDs, mp3 files, streaming audio), the discussion quickly and easily moves out to a wider audience by way of friendships and word-of-mouth recommendations -- a very effective and organic form of transmission. This modus operandi makes it possible to combine the friendly intimacy of the live sessions with a marvelously unpredictable distribution system which takes on a life of its own.
I will be going to California mid-week to meet with Randy and others as we plan the Emmaus Road Initiative series which will begin in several cities in the fall. If you are interested in taking part in one of the ERI gatherings or in helping us organize one in your area, contact Randy Coleman-Riese or call our Office at: 707-996-4704.

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