FRANCISCAN CORNER - DECEMBER
IN FROZEN TIME
While Linda and I have taken to snow birding for the winter, most of our years were defined by all four seasons, each holding a special and exciting charm.
Growing up, I looked forward to the super-cold days and the snowstorms, as long as I could appreciate them from inside our warm house. The whole world, especially at night, seemed to stand still. Time itself seemed to be frozen and I could spend hours conceiving of spaces and places I’ve never seen while sitting in front of our picture window.
It was a season of imagination – a time of bright lights, hot colors, joyful music and special foods. As a boy, I thought how marvelous to see all the Christmas lights against the cold dark nights. A deep warm beauty was hidden behind the snow blowing all around, adding splendor to the dance of leafless trees whispering of things to come. The world seemed strangely both awake and sleeping – waiting for a sudden grand explosion of light and song.
These were the musings of a young boy in the suburbs of Long Island, likely not so different from the wandering thoughts of many other boys and girls. Aren’t the whimsical imaginings of little children priceless? They remind us of possibilities without limit and of boundless wonder born of their excursions to imaginary lands. Or, at least, so it was.
Will tomorrow’s children know such grand adventure when there is so much on their smart handheld devices to entertain and entice them? With so much information and visual stimulation, will they choose to dive into interior reverie of creative myth-making, with its incomparable wonders, shapes and phantasmic spaces?
As our children were growing up, we used to make up fairytales together. I recall an on-the-spot tall tale about “Sammy the Snowflake” and his adventures in “falling” with friends and family. Sammy was, also uniquely gifted – an old soul among snowflakes with a passionate sense of destiny. The kids really loved that one and, though they are now 28 and 35, still bring it up from time to time!
Stories add texture and depth to living. We live many lives through the experiences of fictional characters. Reading a well-crafted novel or short story awakens the grand storyteller within. We recover our taste for infinity in spite of our finite and ordered lives. The Master encourages us to “be again as little children,” and winter has always struck me as a time to return to that abundantly generous state that Our Lord invites us to inhabit.
Francis of Assisi remained childlike throughout his ministry. He was playful in the fields of the Umbrian countryside. He conferenced with birds, counseled a wolf and those troubled
by him, and invented the living Nativity scene dramatically presented complete with actors and animals. Francis was known to sing spontaneously, conjuring tunes and lyrics carried on the wind. He saw the living God in literally everyone and everything under heaven.
All this is on my mind as we prepare to be first-time grandparents in June; praise God! So, in this season of the light, the advent of the Beloved’s appearance in the world, I pray that you know the joy of hearty laughter and the “oohs and aahs” at the vistas and songs of sacred winter. May we all break out in ecstatic song in praise of love, mystery and fascination.
~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF
By Light of the Autumn Moons
In days gone by, October’s Harvest Moon gave farmers a light to guide their late-day work. This November, the sky is illumined by the Hunter’s Moon. On a walk through the woods after sunset, things can seem otherworldly – slightly different and expectant. The sounds of nightlife are all around – the scurrying of small animals, the quiet chatter of birds and leaves rustling in the wind.
The dark wood on a moonlit night leads to folklore about spirits and mystery enlivened by the force of imagination. That’s why we delight so in a walk through the corn mazes. That fear of not knowing what lies around the next turn is thrilling good fun, but not so if we walk it alone or if we can’t trust the way as sure and without real peril. Without companions to join in the fun, I wouldn’t bother.
Our times are fraught with fear of “things that go bump in the night.” We may feel that we have awoken in a dark wood where, as Dante wrote, “the true way” seems “wholly lost.” Gripped by a rising tide of threats and rumors of threats at home and abroad, we can fall into a state of dread. Yet, the cure for such times of nervous anxiety lies close at hand.
This for me is the lesson of the corn maze in the light of the Hunter’s Moon. With one close friend alongside me, the way forward, while still uncertain, seems much more hopeful. I think of the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus, bereft after the loss of the Master and, I imagine, speculating about the uncertain road ahead. Jesus drew near and asked what they were speaking about, but they were too consumed by their own intense sense of loss and worry to know to whom they were speaking.
I write this just an hour after talking with a Franciscan friend who recently lost someone very close to her. We talked for a while and she shared how blessed she feels to have heard from so many brothers and sisters and from those in her local fellowship. She shared the sentiment of one member who said, “We know your heart is broken, so we are holding the pieces for you.”
As long as we go in twos, a third is always present asking, “So what are you discussing as you walk along”? Unlike the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we know how it all turns out. We have the Light that burns brighter than any supermoon.
Let’s walk along together and talk of mysteries and dance in the light of autumnal moons, rejoicing and giving thanks. May your Thanksgiving time be awash in that light.
~ Br. Anton Armbruster
ARCHIVE - FRANCISCAN CORNER
October: - Silence Before Him
As we step into the fluttering leaves of autumn, things start to get busier. The change of seasons brings along its own excitement, spurring new thoughts and activities.
This year, our fellowship’s theme was “the feminine” in Franciscan spirituality. St. Clare placed a premium on contemplation in general, but she gave specific emphasis to just gazing at the San Damiano Crucifix. She taught a process of gazing and contemplation whereby the penitent sits looking at the Cross, emptying herself of all thoughts. I tried this many times, and numerous agitations and distractions emerged pretty quickly. After a while, I wondered, what more is there to see?
Then, one day, it happened. While gazing at the Cross, time slowed and then seemingly dropped away. No longer was the Cross the object of my gazing; it became someone with whom I was in a relationship. For a few precious moments the Cross was gazing back! For Clare, the goal of gazing was have distance and distinction blurred until she could say, “The Cross and I are One.”
This method of contemplation intrigues me. In fact, the entire subject of contemplation infuses my heart, prayer and conversation with my Franciscan brothers and sisters. So, why all the fuss?
Contemplation ceases when silence ceases. It is an effort to find real silence living as we do in an “always-on” or “instant-on” society. Words and sound are all around. But taming the constant chatter is not a luxury — it’s a necessity. Noise forces us into the shallows. Instead of diving deep, we snorkel. Even if we manage to scuba, we‘d be better off in a spiritual submersible.
Personally, I’m done swimming on the surface. In whatever time is left to me in this world, I want to go as deep as possible to hear the sweet voices of angels and the song of the One who asks me to lean in and really listen.
That process demands real silence. I do hope as we move into the gift of fall, we all can taste the sweetness of true quiet. The theme for the Franciscan Fellowship in 2018 will be “Finding and Cultivating True Silence: The Way of Intimacy.”
~ Brother Anton Armbruster