An Old Dog’s New Stretch: Jonathan Montaldo at Kripalu Yoga Center on December 5-7, 2014

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Jonathan Montaldo will offer a retreat/workshop on the contemplative poetry of Mary Oliver and Thomas Merton entitled “Choosing to Love the World” at the Kripalu Yoga Center in western Massachusetts, December 5-7, 2014.

In her poem “Messenger” Mary Oliver confessed “My vocation is to love the world.” Her poetry mentors joy and courage in her reader to savor our porousness to Nature’s matrix of inter-being creativity. Thomas Merton’s equally productive life at Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky produced a legacy of journals, poetry and poetic prose on “contemplative living” that mentors our being  “fully awake and alive” in the world.  The spiritual disciplines of silence, deep listening and Henry David Thoreau’s “sauntering” highlight this weekend gathering so as to make us receptive to what Merton called “the speech a day makes.”

This program includes facilitated inter-personal reflection on specific poems as meditations that invite us to enter the wisdom school of our everyday lives. Simple and brief yoga poses by a trained yoga teacher will help us to stretch and be more present to our being together. General familiarity with the lives and work of Mary Oliver and Thomas Merton is encouraged.

Required texts:  Mary Oliver, “New and Selected Poems, Volume One” (Beacon Press) and Thomas Merton, “The Intimate Merton” (Harper Collins).

Recommended texts:  Mary Oliver, “New and Selected Poems, Volume Two” (Beacon Press) and “In The Dark Before Dawn: New Selected Poems of Thomas Merton” edited by Lynn R. Szabo with a Preface by Kathleen Norris (New Directions Press).

To prepare for this weekend Jonathan is studying (and recommending for participants’ future reading) other texts that will enhance his leadership during the weekend: Henry Bugbee’s  “The Inward Morning”; Edward F. Mooney’s “Lost Intimacy in American Thought: Recovering Personal Philosophy from Thoreau to Cavell” and “Wilderness and the Heart: Henry Bugbee’s Philosophy of Place, Presence, and Memory”;  Bruce Wilshire’s “Wild Hunger: The Primal Roots of Modern Addiction” and “The Primal Roots of American Philosophy: Pragmatism, Phenomenology, and Native American Thought;” Hwa Yol Jung’s “Prolegomena to a Carnal Hermeneutics;” and “The Quotable Thoreau” edited by Jeffery S. Cramer.

In spite of his preparation so as to be a more responsible facilitator for workshop participants, this won’t be an academic weekend. All participants will co-produce and co-facilitate the inter- and intra-personal re-discovery of our porous mind-body selves, or, in more primal terms, we shall help one another come to, return more happily to, our senses.
 

 

 

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Jonathan Montaldo Participates in “Francis Week” at St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York

October 4 is the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi. Saint Bonaventure University in Olean, New York mounts an annual “Francis Week” of speakers and activities of student service to honor the Saint’s anniversary of his death.

Montaldo in OakhamAt 11:30 AM on October 2, 2014 the Thursday Forum will feature speaker Jonathan Montaldo. He will talk with St. Bonaventure faculty and staff about the relationship of St. Francis and Thomas Merton in the University Club. Questions will be taken after the lecture.

Montaldo will then be the featured speaker for this year’s Fr. Jerome Kelly Lecture at 1 p.m. Friday, Oct. 3, in the Quick Regas Center for the Arts. The title of the lecture is “Learning Wisdom in the School of Your Own Life: Lessons in Praying, Loving & Living from St. Francis and Thomas Merton.” The talk will dive into Francis and Merton’s life events and personal relationships as they may mentor us to “enter the school of our own lives.”

For more information on the “Francis Week” celebrations visit http://www.sbu.edu/about-sbu/news-events/latest-news/news-release/2014/09/18/st.-bonaventure-prepares-to-host-francis-week

 

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Jonathan Montaldo to Present Retreat with Sisters of Mercy in Sea Isle City, New Jersey

On October 10-12, 2014 I shall present a retreat in collaboration with and sponsored by Sisters of Mercy at their retreat house in Sea Isle City, New Jersey. The retreat is entitled “Entering the School of Your Experience: Thomas Merton’s Legacy for Contemplative Living.”

Here is the link to the Retreat Brochure with  registration information:

Thomas Merton Retreat 10-10 to 10-12-14

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Jonathan Montaldo Interviewed on Franciscan Media

Franciscan MediaCelebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Birth of Thomas Merton

Join Franciscan Media and Judy Zarick as we welcome author and speaker Jonathan Montaldo to our studio on Thursday, June 5 at 3:00 p.m. ET. 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the birth of Thomas Merton. Montaldo will share the plans underway to recognize the unique and significant contributions of Merton to the contemplative tradition and practice. Viewer questions are encouraged via the chat area and will be answered by Jonathan Montaldo as time allows.

This thirty-minute interview is archived on www.FranciscanMedia.org. Go to “Online Events,” then register, and you can view the interview.

For further information on the Meeting and Conference of the International Thomas Merton Society at Bellarmine University in Louisville, Kentucky, home of the Thomas Merton Center, in June, 2015, a celebration of  Merton’s centenary, visit http://merton.org.

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All Saints Day 2012 in Santiago de Compostela

I walked with my friends into Santiago de Compostela, mind clear and heart content, but without elation. I could not conjure any of the two months of walking as I entered the Square in front of the Cathedral of Saint James. Mindful of “all my relations”, I attended the noon Pilgrims’ Mass. The journey ended on Monday, October 29th and I dutifully picked up my “compostella” at the Pilgrims’ Office, the certificate that certifies my pilgrimage to Santiago from St. Jean-Pied-de-Port in France.

Jon CathedralI end this cycle of podcasts with a poem, “Ithaca”, by the Greek poet Constantine Cafavy. In Homer’s Odyssey “Ithaca” was the island home to which Odysseus struggled to return, through many adventures, after his participation in the Trojan War. Here is Cavafy’s poem followed by a podcast of my reading it, then adding a “riff” of my own on his last stanza.

Grateful for everything in the past, I wait in hope for what is to come. Even though I left home alone for Santiago seven months ago to travel through Portugal, England, Italy, Switzerland and now Spain, many have departed with me “in the spirit” and have been my companions through my travels.

Our destinies are one. I don’t know how this can be true on a macro-level, how my destiny is one with everyone in the world, but I am certain how it is true that I share the same destiny with the entire network of my intimates–with all my personal relations. I know that I am, through the network of us, participating in creating the world with  and for those I know best.

ITHAKA

As you set out for Ithaka
hope your road is a long one,
full of adventure, full of discovery.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
angry Poseidon – don’t be afraid of them:
you’ll never find things like them on your way
as long as you keep your thoughts raised high,
as long as a rare excitement
stirs your spirit and your body.
Laistrygonians, Cyclops,
wild Poseidon – you won’t encounter them
unless you bring them along inside your soul,
unless your soul sets them up in front of you.

Hope your road is a long one.
May there be many summer mornings when,
with what pleasure, what joy,
you enter harbours you’re seeing for the first time;
may you stop at Phoenician trading stations
to buy fine things,
mother of pearl and coral, amber and ebony,
sensual perfumes of every kind –
as many sensual perfumes as you can;
and may you visit many Egyptian cities
to learn and go on learning from their scholars.

Keep Ithaka always in your mind.
Arriving there is what you’re destined for.
But don’t hurry the journey at all.
Better if it lasts for years,
so you’re old by the time you reach the island,
wealthy with all you’ve gained on the way,
not expecting Ithaka to make you rich.

Ithaka gave you the marvellous journey.
Without her you wouldn’t have set out.
She has nothing left to give you now.
And if you find her poor, Ithaka won’t have fooled you.
Wise as you will have become, so full of experience,
you’ll have understood by then what these Ithakas mean.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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From Camino de Santiago: Jim Gravois Podcast on "The Spirit of the Camino"

A couple of days ago I was thinking about the “Spirit of the Camino,” which probably has as many interpretations as there are pilgrims. I decided to do an audio reflection on this topic on Wednesday in Melide, and then I changed it a bit and recorded an extra treatment, while I was walking along the Camino yesterday (25 Oct.), headed toward Arzua, Spain. Hope you enjoy the sound of my feet slapping their way to Santiago. —Jim Gravois

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From El Camino de Santiago: The Consoling Fragrance of Galician Cow Shit

As we walked out of Villafranca de Bierzo, the river flowing with force past us on our left, we had no notion of the beauty that awaited us, nor did we realize the hard climb up and forward we would have to make into Galicia. Galicia is said to be one of the most economically challenged regions of Spain, but its beauty is incomparable, except perhaps to Ireland. Galicia is a Celtic land made green by constant rain.

Breaking up the climb between Villafranca and O Cebriero, Jim and I stopped over-night in the small village of Portella. It was here that I would encounter the milk cows of Galicia. The cows of Portella were more numerous than its human residents. They daily parade through the narrow streets from milking barns to feeding barns, goaded on by dogs and usually a woman with a stick. Pilgrims encountering the daily ritual passage of Portella’s cows must step aside and let them pass. I have now had this experience of Galician parading cows many times. If I had held out my arms, I could have touched these huge animals. When they looked into my eyes, as many of them did, I wanted to embrace them.

It was in Portella that I remembered my nose’s affinity for cow shit and the smell of the barns where cows are milked or bedded down. My yen for the odors of cow barns is perhaps a legacy of my mother’s grandparents and great-grandparents, who were dairy farmers in New Orleans, who continued the traditional work of the Deffes clan out of Alsace-Lorraine. I have not paid enough attention to my mother’s family, but have always more gravitated toward my Montaldo-Paretti roots. The Parettis were green grocers in New Orleans’ French market. The Montaldos managed gambling houses and my grandfather, Charles, managed a saloon in the French Quarter. I have more thought of myself as Italian rather than as my mother’s blend of French (Deffes), Spanish (Gomez) and German (Schindler). My great-niece, Cali, has traced the Deffes clan back to Jews living in Germany in the 1600s. Being in Galicia and bewitched once again by the aromas of dairy cows, my mother’s family is finally claiming its due in me.

Whatever the source, I have always liked the smell of cows and their shit. I remember visiting Bellefontaine Abbey in France, the motherhouse of St. Joseph’s Abbey in Spencer, Massachusetts, where my cousin is a monk. On the first morning after my arrival at Bellefontaine, I attended Lauds and Eucharist in the twelfth-century abbey church. When Mass had ended, I walked out of the church and got a whiff of cow shit from the monastic barn. I thought back then how wonderful it was that these French monks had built their church so close to the cow barn. Psalmody and a cow barn harmonize with one another—the heights of singing for God linked to one of our souls’ basic elements.

Cistercian abbeys in America no longer have cow barns. No matter how reasonable it is that American Cistercians no longer drink the milk of their own cows, nor enjoy a daily dose of the aroma of their shit, something essential to their monasticism might now have gone missing. Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky, once a working farm, no longer has an animal on its property under the care of its monks. No matter how foolish it might seem, given the inexorable decrease of their numbers, perhaps it’s time for Gethsemani to bring back the cow shit. Monks might need to be farmers again.

The fragrance of Galician cows brings me back down-to-earth from flights of fancy I am entertaining as I walk El Camino. Before I open my mouth publicly again, orally or in writing, I’m now vowing to pause a moment and recall the odor of cow barns. Perhaps I should spend a little of my social security money to have a perfumer concoct a fragrance of cow barn odors that I could lightly touch behind my ears before addressing an audience. I could call it Montaldo’s Cologne de Bouse de Vache. If it could be made cheaply enough, in addition to storing it in beautiful bottles for my own use, I could send Vatican City 500 bottles for future use in consistories that raise men to the rank of Cardinal. My gift would designate that each new Cardinal receive a bottle of Bouse de Vache in a crimson-silk lined box, bearing their coats-of-arms, along with a note: “A gift for your wise use as you become a Prince of the Holy Roman Church”.

Holding the sole patent on Cologne deBouse de Vache, I would exercise my prejudice to insure that no woman ever received a bottle, no matter how high the station to which she rose. Women already have a natural facility for smelling bullshit whenever its equivalent in speech reaches their mouths or their ears.

Walking through Galicia, I have meditated on these things. It’s a crazy notion—bottling the essence of cow barn. However, I might do a video for You-Tube in which I explain my idea. It might go viral enough that it would become a meme widely used by anyone finding themselves trapped in an audience with a pompous speaker (someone like me).  In such a situation and without much thought, a person would turn and whisper to another sitting in an adjacent chair, “If only he had remembered to wear Montaldo’s Cologne de Bouse de Vache!”

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From El Camino de Santiago: A New Blog and Podcast from Jim Gravois in O Cebreiro in Galicia

I am writing a few words today in O Cebreiro, one of the highest points along the Camino, and certainly one of the most beautiful. When the weather is clear, as it was yesterday upon our arrival here, the views of the surrounding green hills and mountains are spectacular. The sunset yesterday was something to behold. Today it is windy, foggy, rainy, and chilly. I am reminded of the power of Nature, especially in high places. Will we even see the sun at all today? The Camino contains so many metaphors for life: its challenges, its disappointments, its surprising rewards. As we approach the final stage of this grand adventure, I offer some audio reflections on what the Camino may mean for the rest of my life. —Jim Gravois

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From El Camino de Santiago: Deciding To Travel Your Own "Road To Joy"

When he considered the vastness of the cosmos, the French philosopher Blasé Pascal wrote that its “infinite spaces” terrified him. The stars humbled his existence. In their light he was nothing. Even as a young man I transposed Pascal’s anxiety to describe my own. It wasn’t the infinite spaces but the “infinite faces” that scared me. All those billions of human beings who have come before me, and the billions that exist now, who am I in the light of the infinite variety of their stories and individual existences?

As a corollary to my primal fear, my grammar school self at Sacred Heart of Jesus in New Orleans refused to conceive of heaven as a huge hall with all “the just” surrounding the Lord’s throne and singing, “Holy, Holy, Holy” for all eternity. Not only did this not strike me as fun, but I asked myself how all those “Egyptians” [I don’t know why I zeroed in on them] would crowd around the throne. Would there be room for me?

Yet why should the cosmos of seemingly infinite human existences, flowing out from and passing into one another, be a source of sadness and dismay? Why could not I choose to rejoice that I have been bestowed a “gift” to be part of this great parade, this never ending pilgrimage of humanity coming to fruition and dying as fertile seed for more life? Do I have the choice to not view my life as just a road to inevitable sadness and, instead, consider myself fortunate to have been blessed with “one wild and precious life” [Mary Oliver]?

In his journals Merton highlighted his choice in the decision placed before him to choose death or life: “Either you look at the universe as a very poor creation out of which no one can make anything, or you look at your own life and your own part in the universe as infinitely rich, full of inexhaustible interest, opening out into the infinite further possibilities for study and contemplation and praise. Beyond all and in all is God. “Perhaps the ‘Book of Life’, in the end, is the book of what one has lived and, if one has lived nothing, he is not in the Book of Life. “I have always wanted to write about everything. That does not mean to write a book that covers everything–which would be impossible. But a book in which everything can go. A book with a little of everything that creates itself out of nothing. That has its own life. A faithful book. I no longer look at it as a “book.” [Journals 3, July 17, 1956]

Over and over in his journals Merton urged himself to realize that his life, just as it was in all its particulars, constituted “God’s will” for him. To accept “God’s will” was to accept the parents who bore him, the monastery he had entered, his adopted country America just as it was, “bomb and all”. Merton’s lived mysticism and theology was to identity God’s love for him as inextricably connected with all his life’s relations: the people whom he loved and in turn loved him, the places where his life’s most significant moments were enacted, the culture of the societies of his time, the art, music and literature that most turned him on.

I turn on my sequentially new bunk beds on El Camino de Santiago, often being awake at 3:00 AM with no where to go without disturbing the thirty people sleeping with me in the dorm, wondering through the night what might be the “final significance” of my life. I admit all the blessings that have come my way. I realize that I have not suffered uniquely. My few accomplishments have been satisfying but limited. I am still the son of Irwin and Florence and no more precious a plant than one of the thousands of strange varieties that New Orleans breeds in abundance. I suspect that my dreams of receiving the Palme D’Or at Cannes for Best Actor in a Supporting role in a Comedy, with everyone tearfully on their feet to award me an unstoppable standing ovation, will probably not materialize. I doubt that there will be a movement for my beatification once I’m dead. I’ll get my fifteen minutes of “Poor Jonathan”, and then everyone will go over to Diana and Wesley’s for beer and pizza. And that will be a wrap.

A certain gospel story has always made me uncomfortable. It’s the moment when Jesus is preaching in a follower’s house. Someone comes to the door, and interrupts him to inform him that his mother and brothers are waiting outside for him. Jesus then responds, “Who is my mother? Who is my brother except those who do my Father’s will?” I have always wondered if and how he could get away with voicing that question. If Mary had an ounce of “New Orleans mother” in her, I imagine that, when Jesus finally came out of the house to greet her, she showed him the back of her hand. “Don’t you ever, young man, ask “Who is my mother?” when I’m standing ten feet away from you outside, waiting patiently for you to finish your honeyed words. I didn’t say my “Yes” to the angel Gabriel, to bear your holy ass into existence, so that I could hear you insult me in front of people who don’t know our family. Are you getting my drift, Jesus bar Joseph? You have a lot of book knowledge, son, but no common sense.”

At that moment Jesus had a choice. He could have bowed his head and accepted an illuminative lesson in humility, but no, he had to think himself extraordinary. He just couldn’t bring himself to abandon his starring role in his latest delusion of grandeur: “Woman,” he responded,” don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?” [Bam! Slap! “I didn’t mean it, mama”. Whomp!]. Jesus had to learn his truth the hard way: you place yourself in spiritual, and even physical, peril when you go around preaching theologies your own mother can’t understand.

Mary Oliver’s poem “Answers” speaks beautifully to the tension between “mere learning” and a “wisdom” that stays close to the ground that bore you into life and will always bear you forward to where you really want to go:

ANSWERS

If I envy anyone it must be
My grandmother in a long ago
Green summer, who hurried
Between kitchen and orchard on small
Uneducated feet, and took easily
All shining fruits into her eager hands.
That summer I hurried too, wakened
To books and music and circling philosophies.
I sat in the kitchen sorting through volumes of answers
That could not solve the mystery of trees.
My grandmother stood among her kettles and ladles.
Smiling, in faulty grammar,
She praised my fortune and urged my lofty career.
So to please her I studied—but I will remember always
How she poured confusion out, how she cooked and labeled
All the wild sauces of the brimming year.

New and Selected Poems, Volume One: 235

We have spent two days in the mountains before coming down to Ponferrada. The ascents were hard, but the descents were even harder, the paths down were steep, full of jagged slate and large rocks. Descents are always harder, but you need to negotiate them eventually to land where you really need to go.

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From El Camino de Santiago: More Words from Jim Gravois

I asked Jim to write a few words of introduction about himself before posting his third podcast:

“I am not especially schooled in Thomas Merton, though I did read The Seven Story Mountain long ago. Nor am I especially interested in monasticism, though I did spend two years in a Jesuit Novitiate after high-school. I somehow developed an interest in walking the Camino Frances to Santiago about a dozen years ago. My motivations were primarily cultural, physical & spiritual, in that order. And I am a guy who has met certain physical challenges during my life: 1) cross-USA bicycle trip; 2) training for and completing several 26-mile marathons. So just the idea of walking 500 miles to Santiago was a strong draw to my zeal to make retirement “interesting.” Plus I love foreign places, having spent a year or so in Europe (trying to find myself) back in my twenties.

I love and miss my wife, Lucille, and our two sons, Orion and Michael, all of whom are currently in Alabama. I want to go back to them, but not so much to Alabama.

Here is Jim Gravois’ third podcast from El Camino de Santiago:

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