Tuesday, March 24, 2009


Saturday morning found us sitting inside the church at the Abbey of New Clairvaux to attend the Abbatial Blessing for Father Paul Mark Schwan as the new abbot of the Abbey.

I met Father Paul Mark last fall when I wrote a story about their Sacred Stones project, and truly enjoyed our conversation. I believe it was from that interview that we were invited to attend this remarkable ceremony.

I'm not Catholic, although I've had friends who are, and in high school I spent some lovely times with several nuns (and a couple of friends) in Springfield, Mo. It was right around the time of Vatican II, and the sisters were going from traditional habits to much more informal ones, and changing their names to boot -- i.e, Sister Mary Noel became Sister Mary Carol. They belonged to the Sisters of Loretto. I don't know if the order is still associated with the Catholic schools there or not.

But the "highest" service I've ever attended was the Easter Vigil Mass. The liturgical purpose was different, but it had all the lovely ceremony and very formal liturgy. We sang most of the service, led by an intrepid quartet of monks, much of it in Latin. There was a magnificent processional with representatives from not only Cistercian orders, but -- I believe -- others in the area and perhaps from farther away. The service was led by Father Jaime Soto, the bishop of the Diocese of Sacramento.

It was all incense, candles, music, prayers, liturgy, and an incredible wave of holy energy surrounding Father Paul Mark and all of us in attendance. He has shouldered a magnificent burden -- to be the "Christ" among the community -- and it was an honor and privilege to be present.

The Abbey itself is such a peaceful place, surrounded by walnut and plum orchards and dotted with vineyards whose harvest makes their signature wines. We had cloudy skies and splatterings of rain throughout the day, but the rain feeds the trees and plants. It was good for our souls to experience and participate.

Later that afternoon I went to a drumming demonstration at Heartfelt in downtown Red Bluff. Although my purpose was to take photos and get interview for an upcoming story, I was drawn to the drums too, I'll confess, and was invited to participate.

Drumming is very old and is rooted in every culture, although I believe the djembe is the favored drum for drumming circles. It is elemental: reflecting the heartbeat, the breath, and is at once a communal and deeply personal experience. I found it therapeutic, energizing, and I want more! Although very different from the morning's experience, this one was no less spiritual.

Blessings come to us in many ways, if we open ourselves and our eyes to acknowledge and accept them. I felt very fortunate to be part of both experiences this weekend.

No comments: