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A Little Portion


Little Portion Friary

I haven’t posted here in ages, since I got back from touring the U.S. with Davis Mac-Iyalla. That was a bit traumatic; it’s taken me all this time to recover. I want to thank all our hosts, volunteers, donors and friends; they took excellent care of us. We raised over $26,000 for the work of Changing Attitude-Nigeria.

Since then I’ve naturally wondered, What’s next? For six solid months I was totally consumed with that project—an act of faith I’ve never imagined before, much less lived through, as we both simply put ourselves in the hand of God, because no one else could get Davis to safety.

I’m not sure Episcopalians put radical trust in God very often anymore; we tend to be pretty self-reliant, which is part of our problem. In the past, a lot of Episcopal folks had only God to rely on, and they managed to build some very meaningful ministries. I’m thinking of Jackson Kemper, the great Missionary Bishop who traveled on horseback all over the Midwest (and founded my parish in Indiana in 1837). I remember a parish I recently featured on dailyoffice.org, located in one of the most isolated areas in the Colorado mountains; one day a priest rode into town and established a cowboy ministry. Imagine that—and the church is still there.

And I think of the first monks and nuns in the American Church, who built monasteries from scratch in what was then an extremely Protestant church that was hostile and suspicious of anything catholic. These people suffered real deprivations, the cold of winter, the heat of summer; they often didn’t know where their next meal was coming from. Yet God supplied, in a big big way.

Last night I read about an oral history of one of our first religious orders, the Society of St. Francis, which got started in 1919 in Merrill, Wisconsin, deep in the Snow Belt. After years of toughing it out, they finally decided they needed to move East, where there were more Episcopalians and a larger population to draw from. A friend gave them 40 acres of worthless land, nothing but rocks and a ramshackle cabin the wind blew through. So they moved and huddled together and kept praying; then the Depression came.

That place is now Little Portion Friary on Long Island Sound, one of the most famous monasteries in the Episcopal Church. Plus they’ve got houses in Brooklyn, California and Brazil. Young men are still coming to them.

One of the highlights of my recent trip was meeting a few of the monks of Holy Cross Monastery. Davis and I had gone to upstate New York on the Hudson River opposite Poughkeepsie, for an engagement at the Church of Christ the King at nearby Stone Ridge. A couple of the brothers showed up and invited us, and the next day our hosts Steve and Doug kindly took us to the monastery. I’d heard of it years ago but never expected to be able to visit it. (I think I still have a magazine they put out in the early 1970’s, so something about them impressed me; their spirituality, you think? Their way of life?)

It’s an impressive place. They have quite an active hospitality ministry, with private and public retreats, conferences and meetings. They’re so busy that weekends this fall are all booked up. But they invited me back, and I’m going next month.

Might I become a monk someday? I dunno, and besides it takes years. But that’s what I’m praying about lately; one thing, anyway. The #1 thing.

Meanwhile I’ve just come through an amazing spiritual experience—and though it has changed, I don’t want this closeness to God to end. Ever.

God called me to do something; I was certain of what it was. God made this thing happen, and now I wonder what other use he might have for me.

Consider: the odds of getting Davis out of Africa, even for only a little while, were astronomical; the logistics were overwhelming. I usually think I’m a fairly smart guy, halfway good at organizing things, but “this was my brain on drugs,” scrambled and fried.

I could not have done it—indeed I didn’t do it. God organized that tour. Every time it looked impossible, the exact thing we needed came through. I’m not exaggerating; getting the visa took dealing with the State Department, members of Congress, the Executive Council, bishops, functionaries, bad e-mail accounts, phone calls all day long—and then an idiot secretary at ‘815’ snail-mailed a key document that arrived the day AFTER the deadline. My own Church was screwing up! People offered help and money, then disappeared; you can imagine. This was beyond my capability—which is why no one else in the Episcopal Church stepped up to face the danger Davis was in and the opportunity we had to get him away from Anglican Nigerian thugs.

Yet I learned to pray without ceasing; and I knew God was with us both every step of the way.

How do I know that? Not just by the things that happened, the puzzle pieces that fell into place, but by a particular way the Spirit has of making me feel his presence in my body.

I don’t know whether that makes sense to you; I don’t care if some people think I’m a lunatic. The Spirit knows that I’m dull enough to need something so clear-cut and unmistakable (and surprising!) as a chill that runs through my body. This happened constantly, daily, hourly. So I had the guts to go on.

Long before the visa came through I knew, for absolute certain, Davis was coming to America, coming to my house. And that changed my prayers; I stopped being quite so anxious (which no doubt helped the organizing). I began to pray about the specifics, the documents we needed, the phone calls and e-mails and invitations and finances and then the ongoing, frantic march of time as deadlines grew ever nearer.

I learned, when my brain was fried, to take a break, cool out, do something else. Eat. Even take a night off and go to be with my friends. Davis is all right, I can do this.

It was like jumping out of an airplane with an invisible parachute and a smile.

All we need is a little portion of faith, a willingness to trust God and openness; what Jesus called ears to hear.

Beyond that, a discipline about daily prayer/worship is the single best thing we can do for our souls. When you’re living with Someone, you need to be in touch with them every day.

I live far from my church, so for me that’s the Daily Office.

Thank you, gentle readers; another thing God gave me to know in the midst of this Davis Madness was that people all around America, all over West Africa and around the world, were praying for us too. This really wasn’t my doing, but yours and God’s.

I hope he calls on me again, and that I have ears to hear.++

2 Responses

  1. Greetings!
    Could you tell me when your Merrill Wisconsin Monastery closed ? A dealer at a flea market in Wisconsin was selling a lamp that she said she had
    bought at an auction at the monastery in Merrill.
    Could this have been your monastery ?
    Thanks for the information .
    God’s blessings !
    K. Halverson

  2. Keith, the Holy Cross Sisters, a Roman order, still operate in Merrill, Wisconsin, but the Episcopal Society of St. Francis moved to Long Island, New York in the 1920s. I doubt your lamp came from SSF. Maybe the Holy Cross Sisters were downsizing.

    “Convents” increasingly are called monasteries these days, as there’s really no reason to differentiate based on gender. A like-minded bunch of folks lives together to pray, simple as that.

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