Saturday, August 11, 2012


During meditation in church at 5:30 this morning I decided to reflect for a few minutes on the fact that this coming Thursday, August 16, I’ll turn seventy.


First I looked at the reading for tomorrow’s Sunday mass. The Old Testament reading contained these lines: 
"Elijah, get up, eat and drink"

Elijah went a day's journey into the desert,
until he came to a broom tree and sat beneath it...
He lay down and fell asleep under the broom tree,... Elijah looked and there at his head was a hearth cake
and a jug of water... He got up, ate, and drank; then strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights to the mountain of God, Horeb.
(1 Kings 19:4-8 passim)

Those last two lines seemed like a great way of seeing my life: strengthened by that food, he walked forty days and forty nights. I surely have experienced God’s constantly watching over me and caring for me. I have to ask the Lord’s forgiveness each day for the times that I've looked for some other kind of bread in the desert because I didn’t think God’s bread is enough for me.  That started me looking back over my years. 


The temptation to look back is pretty overwhelming at certain times in ones life, and this is one of those times. So I decided to take the risk.

The first image that came into my memory was of the thousands of young teenage boys who've had me in class over the past 45 years. It was quite a mob scene: Lots of specific faces and names, images of outrageously funny classroom situations as well as showdowns with difficult classes. A couple of kids in coffins or hospital beds, some on arduous backpacking hikes, others singing in the "Funky Get-down Saint Benedict’s Gospel Choir" as it performed in Washington D.C. or Boston.

Then it occurred to me that there are also all the parishioners who’ve celebrated Sunday mass with me in various parishes over the decades. Then there were the readers of the six books I’ve written, who email me from as far away as Europe and Australia. 

And this wasn't including family and close friends. And of course, you dear blog-reader!

Leroy "Satchel" Paige
Next it occurred to me that this looking back is a delicate operation because it may get me thinking that my race is now over. I started thinking about the great African American pitcher Satchel Paige, who played at a very high level for what seemed endless years. No one knew just exactly how old the Hall of Fame player was. He rarely answered questions about his age, and when he did, he replied with something like: "Age is a question of mind over matter. If you don't mind, it doesn't matter." And his most famous quote was the one that came to me in front of the Blessed Sacrament this morning: “Don't look back, something might be gaining on you.” 

Well, that's not exactly Sacred Scripture, but it did make me realize that at this moment of my life I don't have any inclination to look back over my shoulder -- there's just too much still happening in front of me. My life is full of new things that call on my experience and challenge my energy. For example I’m responsible for our new novice who will start his novitiate the day before my birthday, sort of as a way of reminding me not to look back for too long. 

Then next Sunday, August 19, I’m in charge of our annual Monkfest celebration, a family picnic/block-party at which about 500 people come to Newark Abbey to celebrate, eat and drink, sing, tour the monastery, and join us for sung vespers. So I better not be looking over my shoulder this week as we prepare for that.

Then in about three weeks Morehouse Publishing will release the revised version of my 2000 book, Downtown Monks. I always feel invigorated when a new book of mine comes out, even though it demands some time and energy relative to publicity and book-signings. So that will be no occasion for an over-the shoulder perspective on my life either.

Coming up, too, in several months will be the release of a 90-min.documentary film about Newark Abbey and our school. I was thrilled with the nearly-final version of it that I previewed yesterday. I think it’s supposed to come out around next June. (I promise to keep you posted when the time comes). But that’s likely to cause a lot of welcome publicity and make unwelcome demands on some of us here. Once again, no time for looking over my shoulder. Then there's the exciting opportunity to help in writing the dialogue for a proposed fictional film based on the story of the abbey and school. That too lies before me, not behind me.

Oh, and I’m presently teaching a course called “The Wisdom of Saint Benedict” and in September I’ll have two sections of sophomores for New Testament.

So, while the act of remembering is as crucial for us Christians as it was for our Jewish forbears, reminiscence on the occasion of ones 70th birthday may be, at least in my case, a little over-rated. The present has enough rewards of its own. 

Probably something is "gaining on me," as Satchel Paige would say. But both my present and my future are so interesting that I have no inclination to worry about what that might be.
Don't look back!

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