There is a simplicity to Autums’s luring radiantly colored leaves to the brown sanctuary of the earth: a quiet statement about replenishment, change and growth. Laying down something to embrace what is waiting, what comes next. Trusting what is past, what is happening now, and what is to come. Believing, somehow, that Autumn’s presence itself is a harbinger: there is something more to come. Simplicity belongs to each of us as much as it does to Autumn. Times are boldly complex, clearly unfamiliar, definitely uncertain. And then there is the Gospel message of this day: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind…Love your neighbor as yourself.” Mt. 22

There is a profound simplicity in those words, a depth beyond easy grasp. First, be attentive to what is, who is, Other than human. Be conscious of the mystery of being! Celebrate the sunrise, the light, the moment! Find the future in the eyes of the aged; discover the wealth in the joy of the young. Know the wisdom of laughter and the blessing of tears, the comfort of friends and experience of hope in loss. Believe in the more. Recognize what is less. Trust in mystery and discover faith. And then, when you are ready, pause. Breathe very deeply. The next step is about loving self.

How is that done? How does loving self begin? How is it practiced? How is it made real, visible to others, alive in the Universe? Have the courage to ask. Have the courage to wait, to listen, to know finiteness and empowerment at once. recognizing who you are, what you are about, your strengths and areas for growth, is a foundation for learning to love your neighbor. Love is a process, a journey, a commitment to growing. Know that you are growing and changing, and you are somehow choosing that path in the choices and decisions you make. It matters what you do, and it matters how you choose to do it. There are challenges and pitfalls, obstacles and wrong turns, but keeping an eye on the long-term goal is an invaluable tool. Look for the mentors, the models. Find the exemplars you admire. Believe in goodness. Life is short, and moments matter. Trust in change.

And then, love your neighbor as yourself. Imagine tenderness, kindness bestowed upon another. Attentiveness to the person, the moment: that is love. Love respects, love reaches out. It is present in the quiet smile, the door held open, the unexpected gesture. It is present in the truthful statement and gentle wording. It is there with the extra hand, the shared plate, the ability to see the common ground. It is about realizing that having good neighbors starts with being a good neighbor. It lingers with the forlorn and dances with the despairing. There will be moments of rejection, but that is about suffering and meeting suffering with empathy. Most of all, loving your neighbor as yourself is part of the challenge of being human.

Love replenishes purpose in life; it re-focuses attention on what really matters. In a time of such complexity, the very simplicity of the wors, the ideas, offers more than promise.


Just off the main road, surrounded by the vigor of fall foliage, sits a simple monastery. The walkway is open; the front door is glass. There is a tiny doorbell under a large sign that says,”Use this doorbell”. So I did. And there began a conversation that threaded the essence of monastic life with the social and cultural life existing all around and within it. The opening words belonged to a Poor Clare, and she spoke of “the mystery of enclosure”.

“Enclosure” to some is a fenced off area, a separate space. To a Poor Clare, it is the space within the house in which the sisters live: their home and their workspace. It is set apart from the public parts of the monastery: visiting rooms, guest rooms, the chapel. It is a challenge and a reality, a purposefully physically restricted space.

There was a twinkle in her eyes as she spoke. With six decades of monastic life under her belt, she had been invited to speak to a parish group about enclosure. “We all live in enclosures,” she said. “Family, friends, work, schools, ethnicity….” and the softness in her voice was strengthening. Enclosure shapes who we are in ways both clear and curious. There are strengths to it: identity and purpose, connections and support. Danger lurks as well. Those enclosures can become insular, and isolating, discriminatory and divisive. Enclosures are like social systems: subtly and consistently, actions become norms and thoughts become shared viewpoints. They are both inclusive and exclusive, and somehow become visible. The enclosure lives within the person as each person lives within it. Consciousness of that reality is enviable.

In the world outside that monastery, the enclosures so casually named are now colliding: the understandings, the images, the perceptions. What was unseen, what gave life and identity, a common purpose and foundation, has challenged the comfortable enclosures of others. That has opened social channels of uncertainty, confusion, convictions and courage in a torrent of wonderings. But above all, colliding enclosures represent an opportunity to generate new groups, new systems, new hope. Enclosures are there to be created and recreated: the enclosure is a human construction, part of a searching for more.

Monastic enclosure also represents that search for the more. Grounded in the truthfulness and simplicity that allows for awareness of the sacred, monastics cultivate the quiet, the attentiveness to the present moment with a tenacity and resilience that belies the structured days, the sameness. Their enclosure is a testimony to both the human spirit and the divine spark. The mystery of enclosure is embedded in the reality of every day, praying together, eating together, discerning and deciding together. There is the mystery: in the very stillness of being apart comes the wealth to become attentive to who and what is present and outisde the physical parameters. Here, the losses and brokenness can be named, accepted, understood if not forgiven; the divine spark genuinely dances into daily lives. Stillness has substance and movement.

Each enclosure is animated by the layered beauty of humanity. And each is maddeningly challenging to live through: humans working with other humans both gifted and flawed is decidedly difficult. Life is difficult: enclosures like family, friends, churches and ethnic groups promise some comfort, familiarity, hope. Our colliding enclosures are dislodging the past and enabling us to choose new structures, a new system, and new hope.

Common Denominators

In vivid words, soft and full of strength, Psalm 23 sketches and then shapes the buccolic image of a shepherd. Loyal and attentive, the shepherd faithfully accompanies the sheep. In a world of dangers, the shepherd insures safety, kindness, home. The dangers are ever present; confidence and comfort are the gifts the shepherd brings. Generation after generation has found a compelling intelligence in the acknowledgment of both the shepherd and the frightful journey through the valley of death. Courage is nestled there in the harbor of those words just waiting to be heard, to be lived.

The Psalmist could not have suspected what 2020 would bring to humankind nor the afflictions humans would visit upon one another. And yet, “though I walk through the valley of death…” resonates with the world we are navigating. Odd, really, that phrases so ancient might still capture the weight of the world with such stunning simplicity. But then, perhaps that is the magic of Scripture: it captures the fears and frustrations, the anger and the joys, the triumphs and the tragedies of what it means to be human. It gives words to humn experiences that might otherwise defy description. Instead, exploring the depth and breadth of the Old and New Testaments, their complexities and translations offer windows and mirrors into the human journey.

Like the shepherd, the words of scripture have a dynamic capacity to reflect and break open the realities of what it means to be human for each generation, for each person. In a sense, Scripture offers a common denominator. It is the ultimate reminder that humans are at once gifted and flawed, powerful and weak, humble and arrogant. So much resides in each person, in each circumstance that engulfs each individual: Scripture captures all of it in dramatic exposition through the power of narrative. Its stories capture the intensity of human passion in the triangle of David, Bathsheba and Uriah; the essence of human greed in the book of Exodus, and the wonder of human love and sacrifice in the book of Ruth. Abraham, Moses, Miriam, Esther, Ruth and Judith, David and Solomon, John, Peter, Mary Magdalene and Paul….psalmists and prophets, apostles and evangelists. All hopelessly and wonderfully human.

That is what we are: memories and messages, miracles and mourning, always sorting through what it means to be alive, what it means to be human. In this fractured time filled with so much suffering, we share the common denominator of humanity with all those who have journeyed before us. Psalm 23 whispers to us of that reality, that we are sheep with a shepherd; and the psalmist leaves us to wrestle with the meaning of what that looks like in our lives.

In mathematics, common denominators are gifts; they empower action and determine pathways to problem-solving. Unifying fractions is made possible, a miracle of sorts. Searching for the common denominators is the key to problem-solving. Edging towards the end of the liturgical year, searching for the paths forward and the solutions to problems plaguing society, means determining the common denominators, the shared characteristics. . It means looking realistically at who we are, what we are about, and why this matters. It means deliberately choosing to realize that energy, fortitude and courage are birthed in awareness of what we have in common. Moving forward as one with the convictions, loyalty and integrity of the shepherd, solutions are conceivable, even possible. Scripture, the Psalmist and the evangelists, the prophets and the disciples open the door. Finding that resonance, trusting the fragility and the strength of our humanity and moving forward choices is clearly up to us.


Each day of this pandemic, I have watched children weave a new world from the fragments of the last. They glide by on skateboards and bicycles, construct games around the telephone poles, linger at creeks with fishing rods. There is laughter and disgruntlement and a certain order to each moment. They are children of color and of whiteness, and they represent what is possible. In this tiny quadrant of the world, they have come to represent the reality of the future. They are celebrating what it means to be alive.

Then, too, there are the new beginnings as we relinquish the ceratinities of the past. There are the friendships, the new triads of acquaintances based on these new patterns and lifestyles. There are drivers who share the road, educators struggling to meet needs, cashiers who are endlessly calm. It is easy to embrace the negative, to condemn, to shout down what vibrance earth is offering in this time of relinquishment.

There is the chance, though, that what we have been asked to relinquish will yeild the more. Today is the feast of St. Francis, a tiny figure from a tiny village whose name was chosen by the current Pope. He embraced poverty and founded a movement known for working with and for the poor. The lesser known part was his commitment to prayer, his need for guidance and assisance, and his ackowledgement of grace. In the pantheon of saints, his tiny figure became an enormous testimony to grace.

There are startling parallels: Jesus was the stone rejected by the builders, and so Francis and his ways were rejected in his time. Still, he savored the earth and nature and all it had to offer. Still he learned and crept away to find sustenance in quiet prayer at the Carceri and at LaVerna. He knew both strengths and limits and so he chose to live. Most of all, he knew the weight of loss: disagreement among the brothers, ill health, even his loss of sight. That last, though, did not mean he could not see. Relinquishment brought him closer to God. In these days, relinquishment’s pain and challenge may also be offering us the promise of grace.

Days of grace. Grace in the midst of a now filled with uncertainty. Grace, the sense of God’s presence which surpasses all understanding. Grace, to draw close to God without even realizing what has happened. Grace is that helping hand waiting to make each moment more livable, more bearable, more vibrant and more to be grateful for. Relinquishment is the prerequisite.