FRANCISCAN CORNER - SEPTEMBER
Last month, one of my Franciscan brothers and I watched the three-hour 2012 film, “Mary of Nazareth.” In a word, the movie is breathtaking: beautifully filmed in the Holy Land, sensitively acted without sentimentality and presented in such a way as to celebrate the humanity of the Holy Family.
I was touched by Alissa Jung’s portrayal of Mary as a young woman of compassionate courage, joyful insight into even the smallest of things, and possessed of a radiant sense of being always at play in the verdant garden of our Lord. Intensely present yet unassuming and humble, Mary is shown as a woman blessed with insights unlikely for one so young at the time the angel announced that she was to become the mother of the Messiah. In the same vein, I am looking forward to seeing another recent movie entitled “Clare and Francis.” This film recounts the life of St. Francis and the Franciscan Movement as seen through the eyes of St. Clare.
What has been moving in me for some time now, further inspired by the Mary of Nazareth film, is the need for an intentional rebalancing around the place of the feminine in our spirituality: the need for deeper interiority to offset the whirlwind of exterior movement in our times and in the church. A mother’s grace, dedication, and investment in creating a loving space in which to learn and grow is the foundation of the Gospel. Mary, the mother of Jesus, was an encourager of the Apostles and a central pillar of the early church. St. Clare, similarly, was the one whom Francis relied upon for sage council in difficult times. Her continuous prayer for the Franciscan movement was a force that drove Francis’s bold vision forward when obstacles emerged and when conflict arose among the brothers.
In the earliest days of the Friars Minor in Italy, there was a strong eremitical (religious recluse) tradition. Hermitages were built in a way as to provide for real community even though their inhabitants spent long periods of time in solitude.
The Poor Clare’s were, of course, cloistered. While tradition has it that this was not Clare’s original intent but her obedience to what was required, this is not the case. Her spirituality involved many hours of time in deep contemplation (e.g., gazing for hours each day at the San Damiano Crucifix that hung in the convent). St. Francis, similarly, spent as much as half of every year in contemplation and solitude as the ground beneath his itinerant preaching and mendicant ministry across the surrounding countryside the rest of the year.
So much of our lives is tied up in complicated schemes and knots of busyness and instrumental action. One client of mine recently said that his biggest regret is that there is “simply no time to think”. It was my mom who would remind me as a young boy to go out and play, to spend time with a good book, to eat slowly, and savor every moment.
Beneath all our striving there is an ocean of silence calling to us to come home for a visit. This is the feminine heart of our faith and it is too easily eclipsed by the patriarchal focus on productivity, proving one’s worth, achieving, accumulating and standing out.
I was asked by our Provincial Minister, Janet Feeders, to plan and emcee the 2022 Provincial Convocation with a team of tertiaries. I prayed a lot about it and came to a decision on the theme: “Through Her Eyes: The Lessons of Mary and Clare.”Two days later, Janet took me aside to share her further prayer on that theme. She wanted me to know that it felt truly inspired. She blessed me and shared her delight in having asked me to serve in this way: a mother’s kind of leadership!
I lean into September with an enlivened sense of mission around enunciating the voices of the sacred Mothers of the Church who call us to an ever-deeper interiority in advancing the Way of the Heart made manifest by our Lord.
~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF
FRANCISCAN CORNER ARCHIVE 2019
JUST LISTEN! AUGUST, 2019
Silence is precious, necessary, a place where God speaks with special intimacy … and a very hard thing to find!
Madeleine Delbrel, author of Alcide, wrote: “Don’t try to keep silence, just listen.” Her simple and powerful advice rings so true. At one of our TSSF retreats, one of our brothers, used to deep silence and solitude, commented on how tough it was to settle down because of all the noise! He was bothered by the sound of traffic on the road about 100 yards away from the Center and from the highway a mile or so away.Suburban life is simply teeming with noise.
A walk in the woods, while delightful and usually centering, cannot compete with the ring of man-made sounds wrapped all around it. The first word in the Preface of St. Benedict’s Rule is “Ausculta,” meaning listen! If we are to quiet the din inside our heads, we need the practice of being more often where it is truly quiet outside. With enough experience of the “desert” spaces and the truly away places, we can learn to bring that quiet inside.
I find inspiring one transliteration of a section of the Lord’s Prayer, taken from Aramaic, spoken language of Jesus, published by Neil Douglas-Klotz. It reads: “Grant what we need each day in bread and insight. Loose the cords of mistakes binding us, as we release the strands we hold of others’ guilt. Don’t let surface things delude us, but free us from what holds us back.From You is born all ruling will, the power and the life to do, the song that beautifies all, from age to age it renews.”
What is the cure for our post-modern diet of noise? In a word, it is mindful solitude. For whatever amount of time we can muster, as Benedict and Delbrel advise, it is about setting aside time to just listen, just sit, without reading (i.e., without even words of prayer). As I work to deepen my own rule of life, I am uncovering the very helpful counsel of the Oblate Rule of the Camaldolese Benedictine monks who place solitude, the hermitage, in a central place in their spirituality. Remarkable things start to happen when we push away all content except a simple desire to hear.
Applying this in practice, I have taken to listening to the sounds around me without trying to escape them and become more aware of the pauses between them. As we listen to music, too, it is the pauses, the rest notes, that work to shape the music. In meditating, one eventually hears one’s own beating heart. There, too, the invitation to a deeper dive into the well of silence is prompted by the empty spaces, the rests, between the heartbeats.
Lying in bed, awaiting sleep one night recently, I listened to the sound of heavy rain outside. It abruptly just stopped as if the spigot were swiftly tuned off. In what seemed an especially loud silence, I fell asleep. I dreamt I was a passenger on a spaceship bound for the stars. I was late, it seemed, for a meeting that I was told was in the “Poseidon” room where I was expected.
I was anxious that people were waiting on me but, when I got there, after running from corridor to corridor, feeling quite turned around in a seemingly impossible maze, I found a buffet with a few simple foods to enjoy and people focused entirely on welcoming me. They were all smiles, intent on letting me know how genuinely glad they were that I had found my way. The dream then ended as abruptly as the earlier rain outside had stopped and just as swiftly as my time began on the flight to the stars.
Poseidon, archetype of the oceans, the unconscious and deep feeling stands out for me in this dream. There was so little conversation, and yet so much generosity, undistracted presence and a warm sense of being “home.” So, it seems to me, that the end of all our listening is to find the peace in the silence and the love in the solitude where the Divine Heart is clearly setting the tempo and managing all the dynamics.
~ Br. Anton Armbruster, TSSF
I COULD JUST EAT YOU UP! - JUNE 2019
Have you ever said this to your children or grand-children? My own grandmother said this to me; it was always associated with hugs and kisses and a pinch of the cheek. While the phrase is a bit odd, I’d give anything to have her back with me to hear it again.
Well, I recently caught myself saying it to my grand-daughter Zoey. It brought back joyful memories of hours spent gathered around the kitchen table after Sunday Mass. We’d eat several courses followed by loud card games, spontaneous singing of Italian songs and wide-ranging conversation. Oh, how I miss all that!
Catching myself saying this to our “sweet” Zoey, (as sweet as delicious treats like cannoli and sfogliatelle), my thoughts turned to one of the results of our recent RenewalWorks survey. A significant percentage of our St. Margaret’s family do not feel spiritually informed by the celebration of Eucharist. I was struck by the con-nection between the consecration of bread and wine and my grandma’s reference to me as, well, food!
Her love was obvious. It was in her voice and in her perpetually joyful presence. Whenever she saw me, she acted as if it had been way too long since we were last together (though probably a matter of hours and never more than a week). As Roman Catholics in the 1950’s and early ’60s, Confession on Saturdays and fasting were expected (practices that I am renewing). We came to the Sunday meal more than a little hungry. In that context, Eucharist and Grandma’s expression is even more interesting.
At the Last Supper, Jesus expressed his deep longing to share the Passover meal with his Apostles. Jesus’ love was a total outpouring of physicality — a no holds barred self-offering driven by a deep, divinely inspired desire to love and be loved to the point of bodily unity. Coming to Eucharist hungry focuses heart, body and mind on our dependence on food to live and the reality that true love, agape, is divine nourishment — a perpetual enlivening of Christ in and among us.
The schism of the Western and Eastern churches in 1054 was, to a large extent, a split between our minds and our bodies. Eastern Orthodoxy has always placed emphasis on the full mystical union of the whole person with Christ. To this day, Eastern Orthodox Christians venerate icons as doorways to sacred mystery. In Medieval times, believers expressed a physical yearning to be united with Christ, a profound hunger to feel his presence. St. Clare of Assisi was blessed with the gift of joyful tears on having a vision of the infant Jesus in her arms.
The Way of Christ is the way of whole-person devotion. When love reaches its zenith, we are over-come with the inadequacy of words. All our devotional practices are intended for our conversion in Christ. They are meant to ready us to experience Eucharist with all our senses. When our hearts are filled to overflowing with joyful yearning, saying “I love you so much that I could just eat you up”makes perfect sense.
Grandma was an intuitive theologian. It only took me about seven decades to begin to understand it. Separation from God and each other is an illusion born of fear and a focus on external things. All the answers to the important questions lie in our hearts.
The day before Grandma died, I had slept at her home, as I often did on weekends. My grandfather awoke to discover that she had died beside him as they slept. I carry two unforgettable memories: the smile on her face as she lay there, seemingly just peacefully asleep, and my grandfather lamenting over and over: “She didn’t say goodbye.” Years before, grandma had predicted how Jesus would come for her and that, when He did, her joy would be complete. She even correctly predicted the year. Buoyed by her vision, her “bags” were always packed and ready to go. She told me that she saw Our Lord in a vision, standing at the foot of her bed, smiling and reassuring her. Her smile after passing confirmed for me that He had fulfilled that promise and it was surely a glorious reunion.
When I pray, I reflect on the strength of my physical longing for Christ, recommitting to staying alert for divine presence and the sounds of the Sacred Heart. Christ so loves us that He “could just eat us up” with that love. He invites us to do the same in remembrance of the greatest love of all.
Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr recently said, “The Eucharist is so perfect a sacrament that we would have had to invent it anyway had Jesus not instituted it!”
Peace and Joy, Br. Anton Armbruster, TSSF
MAY 2019 - Someone’s at the Door
On Good Friday, after returning from a simple service at an Episcopal Church in Florida that we’ve not visited before, I returned home in fast-changing weather. The skies were menacing, and rains were likely not far off. The daylight was cut short and the wind started to pick up.
The neighborhood was very quiet, quieter than usual. Not much seemed to be going on. I went inside and got settled. Just as I was going to sit down, we heard a loud knock and our security camera at the front door went off. It was late, so I checked the camera first and saw no one. Maybe it was an animal on the roof, or an animal in the crawl space (something we’ve had happen before in the house in Massapequa).
A little time passed, and it happened again. This time, the knock was even louder, seemingly more insistent, and it clearly was at the front door. Weird!
Once again, the camera was triggered, but showed no one. So, I finally went to the door to check. Opening it, there was simply no one around. Everything seemed calm and so the mystery continued. Turning back, now facing the front door, all became clear.
We had hung up a wooden plaque on the door that said, “Happy Easter”!
Apparently, occasional strong gusts of wind shook the wooden plaque and it struck the door sounding like a quite purposeful knock. Okay, both of us felt a little foolish with our imaginations conjuring up a prowling animal, someone playing a joke or an unwanted salesperson. Nope. It was just the wind. Or, was it?
Well, sure, it was caused by the wind moving a dense wooden sign. But, then again, I believe in synchronicity: meaningful coincidences that, on their face, mean nothing more than the obvious but signify somehow a larger, invisible movement.I stopped believing in coincidences long ago. So, the timing of it all, the Good Friday service and prayers of Compline with the rest of the Triduum ahead, all converged in my heart with one significant result:
Yes, someone wasknocking at the door. He’s been knocking for a long time and he will keep on knocking until the doors of my heart swing open with unhesitating welcome and love!
It all sparked some quiet and prayerful meditation.
Now, at the moment of his death on the Cross, tradition has it that the temple veil (separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple where people gathered) was ripped in two, top to bottom (Matthew 27: 50-51a). No longer was there a divide between the prayerful and the place where God dwelt. No longer was the Holy of Holies open only to the high priest. Heaven and earth were one in Christ and at his passing, we were joined with him to the Father for all eternity!
Maundy Thursday is among my favorite Holy Days. It brings back the Cenacle (upper room) where Jesus celebrated his Passover with the Apostles. He prepared, first by washing their feet. He longed to celebrate this Passover with them and offered himself in loving service. Divine hospitality was henceforth a mark of one who follows the path of Christ!
In the depiction of the Last Supper, Michelangelo interprets the moment immediately after Jesus predicts betrayal. He shows the Apostles clustered all together in groups of three. In group two, we see the full picture of our humanity, its grandeur and its frailty. We see Peter (the “Rock,” yet the one who would deny him three times), John (who swoons, a symbol of full devotion and love) and Judas Iscariot (with the spilt salt on the table in front of him, the betrayer). These frames of mind are part of us all. Jesus knows our hearts, and though we have our times of forgetfulness, and doubt, distraction, anger and ego-driven motivations, Jesus’ love is unconditional, and he expects us to love in precisely the same way!
So, yes, Jesus was knocking at our door as he does every day. He is inviting our self-knowing beyond all fears, illusions, delusions and confusions. The signs of his calling to us are everywhere if we only take time to watch and listen for them.
In any event, I give thanks this Easter for the lesson of the wind on Good Friday that asked me, quite pointedly, if I was home!
~ Br. Anton Armbruster, TSSF
2019 ARCHIVE FRANCISCAN CORNER
APRIL - "SEA FOAM ON A DEEP OCEAN"
“ ... darkness was on the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” Genesis 1:1
Linda and I cruised the Western Caribbean with our daughter, son-in-law, and granddaughter in March, making sure to book an aft balcony so we could watch the sea and by day and the stars by night. The turbulent waters of the ship’s wake were strangely soothing and have always had a special allure for me. I wondered at the dark depths of the ocean while transfixed by the chaotic foreground of foaming waters churned up by the ships’ great propellers.
That very image, teeming activity and movement on the surface of an otherwise silent ocean, could be a metaphor for our lives. For me, this Lenten Season has been a quiet search for what lies hidden, wrapped in silence and timelessness. Rather than hectic excursions as we island-hopped, I was content just to be on the ship, sailing – doing nothing except watching cloud formations, islands in the distance, turquoise water, playing delightful, silly games with Zoey, and drinking in the miraculous canopy of stars. All of this wonder was enriched by morning and evening prayer, with the Canticles and the Psalms as companions adding depth, punctuation and resonance.
Franciscan Friar Richard Rohr’s online course, “The Franciscan Way: Beyond the Birdbath,” was well-timed with our cruise and my intention to look more closely to find God in everyone, everywhere, and in everything without exception. St. Francis intuitively discovered the unity of all being, and expressed this in his “Canticle of the Creatures.” When every breath we take is a prayer, we come closer to what Jesus knew - the profound intimacy of a direct experience of the Great Lover. After the Resurrection, Jesus promised to “be with us always.” He is in the light all around us, in the air, pervading everything with his loving presence. Being fully alive to his miraculous presence in the here and now is to live in imitation of Christ. We are the “Imago Dei.” In God’s image are we made.
Lent is our time to get back to that essential truth and peel away the many layers of distraction. It is all about making room for Christ to fill. Richard Rohr speaks often of an “alternative Franciscan orthodoxy” that places primary emphasis on incarnation over redemp-tion, original blessing over original sin. God, in the first act of creation, created light out of nothingness (the void), and declared that it was good. The chief sign of true conversion in Christ is joy. All matter and energy emerged from light-goodness. At the core we, too, are light.
May we do what stars do and may our Eastertide be filled with arising!
Peace and joy,
~ Br. Anton Armbruster, TSSF
MARCH - "VERGES AND INTERSECTIONS"
One of the weird features of highway engineering in Florida is the sudden and quite unexpected merges. You are driving along in the right lane and it unceremoniously (without signage) merges left. One road near us does so twice in quick succession and invariably sparks some colorful language and less-than-Christian gestures.
The irritation of these surprising highway “gotchas” notwithstanding, the frequent encounter with them down here got me to thinking. Because we’ve come tonow expect the unexpected, we are ever on the lookout for the verge or the merge and the need to switch lanes. The image is growing on me as the stuff of parable. Intersections are places of concentrated atten- tion or, at least they should be. Energy rises as separate flows converge.
Our lives are full of these moments, but we swiftly look to settle back into the expected, the straight, and smooth way. But, there is real excitement at the boundaries!
If I look for them, I start to see more and more of them: dusk (on the verge of night), first light (on the verge of day), puzzlement (on the verge of insight), twilight (on the verge of sleep), a first gust (on the verge of storms), and total silence (at the threshold to holiness). Prayerful science is actually defined by boundary conditions and what isemerging is a grand reunion: back into the arms of the queen of the sciences, theology, but seeing her as if for the first time. What fun to read about theories and insights by scholar-poets living at the intersections.
So, next time you approach a merge, praise God for the little awakenings and beckonings. In the meantime, let me just say, Florida highways are more than a little bit insane!
~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF
Singing the Praises of Creation
Praise the Lord from the heavens;
Praise Him in the heights!
Praise Him, all His angels;
Praise Him, all His hosts!
Praise Him, sun and moon;
Praise Him, all you stars of light!
Psalm 148 1-3 (Amplified Bible, Classic Edition)
The Psalms are a foundational gift that give voice to the heart of faith. Made to be sung (chanted), the Psalms are a vehicle to transport us into God’s space and time. They are designed to engage our whole being as we resonate to the rhythms of poetic praise and supplication.
On the night of Jan. 20, the heavens gifted us with a reminder of God’s grandeur. Beginning around 10 p.m., the shadow of earth was cast onto the lunar surface as earth’s orbit brought us between the sun and the moon. This striking event is called a super wolf blood moon eclipse. The moon was at its closest approach, and glowed a dark orange as earth’s shadow slowly covered the lunar surface.
Jan. 20 was an especially cold night across the country, but it was a relatively balmy 40 degrees in Florida. Linda and I gathered blankets and pillows, settled into our car’s reclining seats and opened the sunroof. (It didn’t hurt that we could turn the car heater on from time to time.) The full super moon was brilliant against the backdrop of winter stars.
So, what’s so special about all this that warrants stepping out on a cold night and so late to stare up at the heavens?
Well, as the eclipse began, moving from a small sliver of shade to the fully shadowed moon (turning blood orange), I found special meaning in reciting the last of the Psalms, Psalm 148, the first lines of which are given above.
I considered the mysterious and improbable miracle of our being at all. At times like this, I consider the fact that I am floating in space on this old “ship” that’s positioned perfectly for life (right in the “Goldilocks Zone”) by the force of gravity and an ideal distance from the sun. And isn’t it amazing that we can calculate to the minute when such events will occur, and that we can do so many years in advance owing to the predictable rhythms of the solar system?
I find great delight when planets seemingly line up, relative to our perch in space, so we see them as if all in a row, or when one eclipses another, or one or more of their moons become visible. Everything is moving by an order set by forces that originated 5 billion years ago, the age of our solar system.
We watch this cosmic dance and imagine worlds hurled across unimaginable distances. It’s precisely in these moments that I think again about the “Imago Dei” – the image of God – in which we are fashioned, and consider the vastness of God’s artistry.
Three other events come to mind: the Magi, arriving to greet the Christ child at his home when about 2 years old, as scholars estimate; the baptism of Our Lord in the river Jordan launching his ministry; and the Wedding Feast at Cana. All three events were manifestations of Emmanuel, God with Us.
Though we pass through this life largely unaware of the great patterns and events that define the universe, the miracle of our being and the gift of wondering continually invite us to deeper prayer. An eclipse is just one natural reminder of the precious gift of life and consciousness: eyes to see it, and a mind that reaches out well beyond itself.
As the moon emerged from the shadows, I remembered a statement made by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest, mystic, theologian and paleontologist. He reflected on the stuff of the universe and said, “Matter is Spirit moving slow enough that it can be seen.”
Amen. Praise God!
~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF
DANCING IN GRANDFATHER TIME
HOW DID IT GET SO LATE SO SOON …?
… So asks Dr. Seuss, who delighted me as a child, and grabs my attention once again, reigniting my imagination as I share his wisdom with our grandbaby Zoey.
Completing his thought, he wrote: “It’s night before its afternoon. December is here before its June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”
Time is a funny thing. There’s never enough of it when there’s something we want to do or need to do. It seems time plays the hare when we are having a good time (“my, where did the time go?”), and the tortoise when we are bored (expressed by a child who repeatedly asks, “Are we there yet?” every few minutes of a long car drive).
Weekdays move slower than weekends and holidays, and vacations almost always seem to end just when we are getting into the spirit. When we are young, time stretches out before us like endless yarn. After 60, we wonder about how many yards of yarn are still left on the spool. As often as not, time seems more like an enemy than a friend.
Here’s the kicker: time itself isn’t real. We made it all up. Albert Einstein wrote: “The distinction between the past, present and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion.”Yet, on this side of paradise, it seems time’s passage and measurement rules! If it is an illusion, it is a powerful one.
Ushering in the New Year, we participate in the Big Countdownalong with thousands of people around the world. We celebrate with music, dance and varying degrees of inebriation, complete with noise makers and a panoply of carbohydrates. Our own personal ritual is to watch the ball drop in Times Square on network TV, enjoying the way the new year moves across the planet in a wave with the televised celebrations from around the world. We make sure our corks are ready to be popped right at the stroke of midnight followed by calls to family and friends (at least those who are still awake).
As Epiphany approaches, I’m reminded of the story of the three Magi drawn by a star in the East who “bearing gifts, traverse afar.” Their wondering propelled their wandering. I cannot imagine their being bored on the trip. When we are arrested by wonder, something different happens to time. It stops. While performing with certain rhythms and according to ordered patterns, the truly great expressions of artists, musicians, poets, dancers, craftspeople and singers transcend time.
Last summer, Linda and I stopped into a St. Vincent de Paul shop in Clermont, Fla. Standing in a corner was an old Seth Thomas grandfather clock, being sold for a song. The cabinet and clock face were in great shape. The romance of such a classic timepiece overwhelmed us, and so we bought it. At home, we set up the pendulum and the solid brass weights that power the movement, but nothing happened. So I called a horologist (a master clockmaker) who stopped by just before Christmas.
Ed the clock master took his time. He lovingly dismantled the movement and tested the chimes (such beautiful sound, the Westminster Quarter or Cambridge Quarter, derived from the chimes at the Church of St. Mary the Great in Cambridge). He determined that the clock needs a new movement. His promise is that the clock will be as good as new and he will come prepared to tutor us in all the workings of the clock.
Time flew by as we spoke. He talked about the history of clock-making in Connecticut, the role of the Dutch, and the likely history of this grandfather clock manufactured in New Jersey. His passion was infectious. Several hours later, Ed became a friend.
Our time ministering to this old clock was itself precious time. Our shared wonder about time and timepieces was a moment of shared celebration about beauty and artistry that reminds us that time is a movement that rests on timelessness.
As we all celebrate Epiphany, I pray that you find moments of such timeless rapture that inspire imagination and an ecstatic dance with the sacred mysteries of Being.
~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF
2018 FRANCISCAN CORNER ARCHIVE
FRANCISCAN CORNER - DECEMBER, 2018
RULE OF LIVE
Do you practice a Rules of Life? I can think of no better time to share my reflections with my St. Margaret’s family than Advent, this season of great light. There are a few well-established principles:
- The goal is joy and continuous conversion, uncovering our true identity in Christ - what Thomas Merton called our higher self. It is not a “to do” list to keep us religiously busy.
- Rules must serve us, not the other way around and must fit well into the circumstances of our lives. It pays to begin with a thoughtful self-assessment of which “developing edges” God is calling on us to improve.
- The center of gravity of our rules of life is the Eucharist: the source and summit of our faith. All rules start here.
- Extending the blessing of Eucharist to every moment means setting aside specific times each day for prayer. This can take many forms but the key is to punctuate our daily round with moments of self-offering to God. This can be a reading of the Daily Office or similar formal prayer, along with other practices such as the rosary, prayers of petition, centering prayer (using short repeated phrases from the Psalms or scripture, and/or slowly reading the Psalms themselves.
- In all religious Orders, there are additional elements to incorporate if inspired to do so: study of scripture; penitence (performing “Examens of consciousness” and Confession); self-denial; simplicity; ministry; and cultivating a relationship with a spiritual director. Having a spiritual guide is an especially powerful thing to add, as it is difficult to see aspects of our religious lives clearly without the perspective of someone more deeply experienced. I work regularly with one of the Cenacle Sisters in Ronkonkoma.
- Journaling is particularly reinforcing on a daily basis. It is good to capture subtle movements of the Spirit in our lives so that we can reflect on them.
This season, I’m especially thankful for journaling. What has been rising up in me is a more deeply quiet center - a place in which I can just abide in the Spirit.
After 46 years of marriage, just being in the same space with Linda is assuring and charges the air with peace and meaning. Our daily schedule sets a pace, a rhythm, that defines our dance as we listen for Christ in our marriage.
Rules of life are pacing and rhythm-setting. They are like musical scores that define the dynamics of our lives: the staccatos (discrete events), the crescendos (peak moments), legatos (the long runs of ordinary time), the pianissimos (the soft times of gentle being) and the many other colors of our lives.
One clear result that my rule of life has produced is split-screen living between Kronos (our time) on one side, and Kairos (God’s time) on the other.
Case in point, I was holding Zoey, our 5-month-old granddaughter, as she fixated on a wrinkled piece of paper, smiling and making sounds of clear delight.
It’s been a long time since I enjoyed wrinkled paper, and I heard the voice of Jesus saying: “Be again as little children.” It turns out that mathematicians, like Zoey, are fascinated by these complex and irregular shapes. Thanks to Zoey, the miracles in forms and their infinite varieties is the story now playing itself out on that second screen that looks more deeply at mere events elevated to the level of the miraculous in His time.
May your own seeing be blessed with sights of the miraculous in this season of Emmanuel!
~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF
FRANCISCAN CORNER - November, 2018
Ears of the Heart
In October, the LI Fellowship of the Third Order of the Society of St. Francis met for Eucharist at St. Margaret’s followed by a meditation and discussion in the Undercroft. Our topic was the meaning of “heart-listening.”
The Prologue to the Rule of St. Benedict begins “ausculta,” or listen: “Listen carefully to the master’s instructions and attend them with the ear of your heart.” This echoes Proverbs 22:17 – “Incline your ear and hear the words of the wise and apply your heart to my knowledge.” In the same way, St. Francis of Assisi is always seen bringing his feelings to Christ, seeking an intimacy beyond words and thinking. Francis strips away all that would compete for his attention so that his whole being was an act of listening in rapt attention to the intonations of the Spirit.
Our Fellowship conversation was very rich. We explored the many distractions and interior noises that often block our being able to listen with the heart. Brothers and sisters spoke of the need for more silence in their lives, more simplicity, more time for just being together without an agenda, and recognizing how much we fail to hear the deeper story lost to our filters and blind spots. More than anything else, we agreed that divine listening (of the kind invoked in Proverbs and by Benedict and Francis) demands being vulnerable: being willing to not know, not say or doing anything. In effect, to give up control and entrust ourselves to the Spirit.
From this wonderful day of sharing, I traveled the very next week to Omaha to facilitate a meeting of a nine-person leadership team that is adding two new members. The intent was to celebrate and integrate the new members and reconnect after a meeting we had back in May. The goal was to accelerate movement toward an ever-stronger level of trust and mutual dependence. Here, in a business context, the same conversation arose.
We spoke about how feelings have taken a back seat to analysis and thinking. Attendees spoke of how only by leaning on each other could they be strong in the face of stiff headwinds, uncertainty and happenstance. We asked: What gets in the way of being more truly ourselves back in the office? The reluctance of many to be as open back on the job was attributed quite simply to fear: fear of being judged, of being viewed as weak, of not being somehow “good enough,” talented enough, or possessing the “right” image. Our humanity is constrained and tortured in so many environments in which people are walking as if on eggshells.
Emotions are what determine whether and how deeply and richly we think. As Jill Bolt Taylor so beautifully said after her 12-year recovery from a massive stroke in which she lost all speech and memory, her own name and knowledge of all those around her: “We are feeling beings that think.”It’s not the other way around. In fact, while we spend most of our time in the West focused on the capacities made possible by the so-called higher functions of the neocortex, in evolutionary terms, this is actually the youngest part of the brain. The older part of the brain contains the limbic system, the seat of our emotional lives. The oldest of emotions is fear, and, when it rises, thinking is quite literally suspended and reflex actions kick in.
Isn’t it telling how often Jesus encourages his disciples to “be not afraid?” Yet, we are surrounded by things that trigger memories that are full of negative feelings that leave us breathless. In the blink of an eye, our composure crumbles and old shadows rise, and, in such instances, we say things we regret and we act in unthinking ways. If we truly are to love our neighbors as ourselves, we first must examine our fears. In admitting them more openly, sharing them, being vulnerable and reflecting on these deeply rooted emotions, we can better attune to our own hearts and the hearts of others. But, none of this can be rushed, and we live in a rushed world. Social media, email and texting, on which we increasingly rely, may be efficient, but it is a cheap substitute for engaging with one another — it robs us of real dialogue.
To listen with the ears of the heart, we need to calmly take time to pay more attention to feelings in ourselves and others. Only in this way can we truly share the blessings of our common humanity. When we do so, as the nine leaders in Omaha discovered, we feel freer, see more clearly, recognize that we are more alike than different, and are better able to be stronger in the face of uncertainties and happenstance. Instead of dwelling on analyzing and solving, we discovered the power of just opening space for real conversation without any agenda except to be open and honest.
At the close of the meeting, all agreed that somehow trust and having each other’s backs was in a better place for having shared so openly and, in many instances, touchingly. For me, this has been a call to prayer, to quiet time and praise for the mystery of Being and Loving in our brief time together on earth.
As we approach Thanksgiving, I wish you a time of real presence with loved ones to revel in the stories that make us who we are.
~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF
FRANCISCAN CORNER - October, 2018
In Praise of Strangeness
Everything, literally everything, has a hidden dimension, an invisible set of qualities and a reality about which we are unaware.
Water changes from vapor to liquid to gas as a function of how fast or slow the molecules are moving. If slowed down enough, of course, we get ice. I’m fascinated by the phase just between liquid and freezing, when things are on the cusp of change.
All of life is a matter of the release and generation of heat. Even our thoughts produce heat. Love is heat and its presence is fundamental to the evolution of life. There is sacred presence in the exchange of heat.
The joys of science rest in the fact that the universe is exceedingly strange. Beyond what we experience through our senses and perceive, everything is mov-ing; everything is going somewhere; and everything has mystery at its center.
Having spent most of the summer in Florida, I catch myself noticing subtle differences in daily life. The morning soundscape brings the songs of frogs and toads rather than the symphonies of cicadas that are familiar up north. Cloud formations erupt and change quickly. Towering cumulus and nimbus spires bring ferocious lightening. Torrents of rain arrive like clockwork between 4 and 6 p.m.
The lightening is beautiful. Often, it illuminates the sky in wide sheets. High altitude light flashes, often appearing red (called “sprites”), frame the drama of lightning bolts striking ground. The speed of change in the sound and visual landscape brings an arresting strangeness.
One afternoon, Linda and I went to the beach at Fort De Soto Park in St. Petersburg. Shortly after we arrived, dark clouds tinged with a menacing green rolled in from east to west. The Gulf water was an azure blue and remarkably warm, so it was easy to just wade right in and then hard to leave. That said, we stayed a bit longer than we should have.
When lightening began visibly striking the water some miles to the east, we (and about 100 others) got the message that it was time to leave. Linda made it to the car, while I stayed to pack up our gear.
The rain and wind rushed in and I entered the car soaked to the gills, while others found poor cover under pavilions outsmarted by sideways rain. In seconds, the weather turned from quiet and sunny to something that for 10 minutes felt like a serious cyclone. Palms went flying by on strong winds and the rain was so intense that visibility was zero. When the turbulence passed, many commented on how strange it had been.
And, it was breathtakingly beautiful!
The lightening was exhilarating. The wind was commanding … without question, we were all fully present. A divine mystery and sacredness arose from deep inside the moment.
Funny thing is that, arriving home, I spent extended time enjoying the weather channel again with a heightened appreciation and, as providence would have it, there was a special on lightening.
When things are strange, we simply pay more attention. Since that experience, I’ve taken time to investigate what science reveals beyond the obvious about lightening forms. What’s happening underneath natural events that can’t be seen elevates them and engenders a prayerful disposition. Digging past the surface enriches both the fun and the wonder of it all and deepens our seeing.
Strangeness is God’s perpetual invitation to come closer, look inside and be amazed!
In returning to Long Island, I know my watching and listening will be heightened along with my gratitude for His Presence, especially in catching a faint glimpse of strange things out of the corner of my eye.
~ Br. Anton Armbruster
FRANCISCAN CORNER - MAY 2018
Linda and I returned from our winter in Florida with two things on our minds: renovate and head back!
But first, we need to address a problem. While we were gone, our bay window sprung a leak and warped sub- flooring behind the couch. We now need to find the source, fix it, repair the floor and lay down some new hard wood. We decided that while we’re at it, we’ll rip out the 1950’s paneling, and (oh, why not) redo the fireplace in stone.
So, May will be re-building month at the Armbruster residence. May is also one month shy of the time the miraculous, blessed “construction” of Zoey Ava will be completed. Then we return to Florida to celebrate and support the birth of our daughter’s first child.
All this set the stage for a recent dream: I was walking down corridors, opening hidden doors and revealing rooms in our house that I didn’t know existed. This, by the way, is a very popular dream that people often report. “What does it all mean?” asks the analyst in me.
It means, “keep looking, there is so much more to find!” Just when you think you’re done exploring, another room pops up.
I had a dream just like this eight years ago. It was so powerful that I asked a handyman to construct a special library in our house. The shelves were built into the door so that, when pushed closed, the way out vanishes. This sanctuary allows me to be blissfully surrounded by a museum of ideas and creative energy: old friends on the shelves dating back to my youth and souls reaching out over centuries.
“Under construction” sums it all up. So we are in the womb, so we are at birth, and so we are every day of our lives. The illusion is that we are “all growed up.” Nope. Only if we let it be so does the construction stop.
Our faith affirms that “construction” continues even as we eventually assume our place in the halls of the Infinite. As we lean toward Pentecost, we await the arrival of the Holy Spirit that forever ushers us toward a next “room.”
Let us proudly hang the sign on our front doors: “Under Construction. Excuse the mess.”
~ Anton Armbruster
FRANCISCAN CORNER - APRIL 2018
I was too long inside, busy with work and in need of a stretch. Opening the door for some fresh air, I was temporarily blinded by brilliant sunlight. For a moment, I couldn’t see a thing. Everything was bathed in intense light - so bright in fact that, for a split second, I, too, was light.
We’ve all had this experience. Our eyes adapt, the blindness passes quickly and we get on with life. But, it got me thinking about Eastertide. The long night ended when the Son rose in the east, making all things luminous.
Each dawn reminds us of this central mystery. In a flash from the east, the night ends and a new day begins. This is the moment when dreams are renewed. Many Long Islanders have traveled to Montauk and Orient Points to see the “green flash” seconds before sunrise.
The first Easter also came in a flash, after the dark time of sorrows. I imagine the moment Mary Magdalene greeted a man she assumed was the gardener. As he stood at the opening of the now-empty tomb, the light behind him obscured his features. After hearing him call her by name, imagine her sudden realization that he was her Lord. In a flash, tears of mourning dissolved into expressions of joy.
Dwight Kalita wrote a captivating and insightful book some years back entitled, “Light Consciousness.” He tracked all the references to light in both the canonical and apocryphal gospels, and he saw light used as metaphor for revelation over and over again.
Light is mentioned 90-97 times in the New Testament, depending on the translation. Darkness is mentioned less than half as often, about 41 times. But in the physical universe, light makes up less than 5% of what’s out there. All the rest is an unknown dark stuff that bears no resemblance to the matter we know and are made of (electrons, protons, etc.). Light is dwarfed by all the darkness from which it emerges.
The message strikes me with clarity: Resurrection is the triumph of light over the persistent darkness. I think on these things with special focus following the recent death of Dr. Stephen Hawking, whose life was a passionate dance with the mysteries of light and darkness. While not a religious man, he spent the time he was given contemplating the mind of the cosmos.
Among his contributions is the notion of “Hawking Radiation,” the realization that elementary particles do emerge from black holes from which otherwise nothing (well, almost nothing) escapes. The triumph of the light is more glorious when placed in the context of ineffable and pervasive night. Even “black holes” ultimately cannot contain an exuberant fountain of energy.
The perpetual tension between light and darkness quickens our senses and feeds our hope as we awaken each morning to the task of being children of that same light in the world. Ours is the joyful obligation to be bearers of light in imitation of the Way-shower.
What form does this “light” take? Well, interestingly, the word “love” appears 221 times in the NRSV. Pure and simple, Light Consciousness is love consciousness and recognition that my brothers and sisters are everyone and everything, everywhere. The work of conversion rests in locking arms and, to quote a character from the movie Stardust, “Let’s do what stars do … Shine!”
I pray our Easter season continues to fill us with the Light of Love that overcomes all despair, hopelessness and crushing darkness.
~ Br. Anton Armbruster, TSSF
FRANCISCAN CORNER - MARCH 2018
A Lenten “Sostenuto”
This is the season to downshift and linger on moments of meaning. Hit “pause” and cultivate the art of stopping time.
Lately, in prayer, I hear the instruction to “look and linger.” The fruits of doing so can be summed up in one word – awe! Driving west toward Clermont, Fla., from Orlando, Linda and I have often been treated to arresting sunsets. Deep oranges, and yellows and, later, indigo marked by flourishes of red, all dance into view. For a moment, all other thoughts subside. We can only say, “look at that!”
A few nights ago, we arrived home after midnight. Our neighborhood is especially dark at night with few street lights to wash out the sky. It was profoundly quiet. I grabbed some packages to bring inside and started walking toward the house. Then, as if someone had gently laid hands on my head to tilt it upward, I saw the stunning canopy of stars. Only one word came to mind: Wow!
I was looking straight at the Great Nebula in Orion. The stars were especially bright and I could almost see the great Nebula M53, a nursery of stars, at the center of the constellation. In that moment of wonder, there was no need to hurry inside. Time itself had stopped.
Recently, I was doing some paperwork and stopped briefly for a short walk. I was startled when, out of the corner of my eye, something moved. There, very slowly climbing up the outside wall of our house, was a frog. Remaining completely steady, I walked close to catch a photo. I was mesmerized by this little creature, able to climb so deftly straight up the wall and going about his mission so silently!
Awe is defined in one dictionary as “a feeling of reverential respect mixed with fear or wonder.” In fact, the origin of the term from Old English, “ege,” refers to terror and dread. Research is now revealing that awe is more nuanced than that. In last year’s July issue of New Scientist, science journalist Jo Marchant refers to the first scientific definition of awe, “the feeling we get when confronted with something vast that transcends our frame of reference that we struggle to understand. It’s an emotion that combines amazement with an edge of fear.”
In various studies, researchers are finding that true awe changes us. After an awesome experience, people are more positive overall, more ethical and generous, and they feel more connected to others. They report feeling happier and less stressed. Surprisingly, they feel that they have “more time.” Awe, it seems, stops the clock, or surely slows the tempo.
In music, Italian notations are used to instruct performers on the composer’s intent when it comes to mood and tempo. One term especially comes to mind this month: “sostenuto,” the instruction to slow it down and move to legato playing or singing, (that is, from one note to the next on one smooth, uninterrupted breath). For Lent, I am working to cultivate the “sostenuto,” to linger more, peering more intently at all things, large and small. The goal is clear as I move through the 40 days to Easter: practice the slowing until I reach the state of “fermata,” a musical full stop, a note to be held and sustained.
Wishing you and yours such times of awe as we move to the moment of Christ.
~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF
FRANCISCAN CORNER - FEBRUARY 2018
I Hear His Voice in You
Februum, Latin for purification, is the historical root of the name for this month. Its traditional symbols include the amethyst birthstone, signifying piety and spiritual wisdom. As the last month of meteorological winter, it is also the transition to the rebirth of spring. We are quite literally told by history and timing to get ready, to prepare and to purify.
With this in mind, I’ve been thinking a lot about the joy of anticipation and what it means to get ready for the miraculous. At Thanksgiving, Linda and I were on pins and needles awaiting the big “reveal” of the sex of our first grandchild. A friendly local baker received a secret notification from the obstetrician’s office, keeping the baby’s gender from everyone, including the parents. We picked up the cake and, with family and friends dialing in via video Skype, our daughter made the first cut: the icing inside was a vibrant pink. So, after weeks of wondering, with a single slice, we were celebrating the coming of Zoey Ava.
Wednesday, Feb. 14, opens our 40-day Lenten season of anticipation that carries us to Easter, the ultimate “Divine Reveal,” the great consummation of the promise celebrated at Christmas: new life in Christ.
In the Franciscan Rule of Life, one of the nine elements of daily practice is self-denial. Postulants usually relate to this as giving something up (like those addictive fudge brownies). Perhaps self-denial can take the form of curbing cell phone use. One postulant recently chose to give up romance novels. These are all certainly fine and fasting is a customary part of self-denial, but we are encouraged to go so much farther. Getting ready for a blessed event means jettisoning all that distracts us from the Sacred main events in our lives.
Real Februum, interior purification, is denying oneself altogether. It means putting our own thoughts and preoccupations aside and placing others in center view (listening, learning, appreciating, being fascinated by their stories and their worlds). The LI Fellowship of The Third Order of the Society of St. Francis is launching a Province-wide search for members with whom we have lost contact. As part of this, we are establishing the “Emmaus Travelers” program, identifying companions who will stay in touch with those who have been out of touch. Many are unable to participate in fellowship meetings owing to personal or family illness or great distances. Some have been out of touch for as many as five or more years.
I spoke on the phone to one brother in his 70s, home with his wife who has been ill. He is a therapist and a person with a wonderful story of continuing spiritual growth and adventure. I discovered, in this one call, that, like me, he has long wanted to see a marriage of sacramental worship and Quaker silence. Another, we just learned, was an engineer that helped NASA put a man on the moon. How is it that their stories went silent?
We are asking these folks to write for us and share their stories, and we now have well over 100 stories pledged that we will compile as a book on Amazon. So powerful is this movement among us, that we are extending it to all brothers and sisters (with emphasis on those who are ready to tell the story of how religious life has evolved as they’ve aged).
My Lenten ritual will be a time of deep listening to the stories of others; celebrating the wisdom of age spoken in the diverse voices of soon to be new friends with extraordinarily rich and diverse occupational, social and spiritual backgrounds all bound together in Saints Francis and Clare. May you too find Christ in others whose stories are a great blessing.
~ Brother Anton Armbruster, TSSF