27 July 2009

Retreat - part 2

I have returned, having learned that:
  1. I am a sinner
  2. God is infinitely separated from me
  3. God loves me and deigns to dwell within me
  4. God wants my complete surrender to Him

"Oh," you say, "I thought you already knew all that."

Well, yes, so I did. I know a lot of things that I need to be constantly reminded of, to deepen my understanding of, to learn to really believe; to hope in; and finally and essentially, to learn to love.

For what it's worth, here is the meditation that I used repeatedly - I hope with some profit - during the retreat:

"Come now, insignificant man, fly for a moment from your affairs, escape for a little while from the tumult of your thoughts. Put aside now your weighty cares and leave your wearisome toils. Abandon yourself for a little to God and rest for a little in him.

Enter into the inner chamber of your soul, shut out everything save God and what can be of help in your quest for him and having locked the door seek him out. Speak now, my whole heart, speak now to God: 'I seek your countenance, O Lord, your countenance I seek.'

Come then, Lord my God, teach my heart where and how to seek you, where and how to find you.

Lord, if you are not present here, where, since you are absent, shall I look for you ? On the other hand, if you are everywhere why then, since you are present, do I not see you ? But surely you dwell in light inaccessible. And where is this inaccessible light, or how can I approach the inaccessible light ? Or who shall lead me and take me into it that I may see you in it ? Again, by what signs, under what aspect, shall I seek you ? Never have I seen you, Lord my God, I do not know your face.

What shall he do, most high Lord, what shall this exile do, far away from you as he is ? What shall your servant do, tormented by love of you and yet cast off far from your face ? He yearns to see you and your countenance is too far away from him. He desires to come close to you, and your dwelling place is inaccessible; he longs to find you and does not know where you are; he is eager to seek you out and he does not know your countenance.

Lord, you are my God and my Lord, and never have I seen you. You have created me and recreated me and you have given me all the good things I possess, and still I do not know you. In fine, I was made in order to see you, and I have not yet accomplished what I was made for. And you, O Lord, how long ? How long, Lord, will you be unmindful of us ? How long will you turn your countenance from us ? When will you look upon us and hear us? When will you enlighten our eyes and show your countenance to us ? When will you give yourself again to us?

Look upon us, Lord; hear us, enlighten us, show yourself to us. Give yourself to us that it may be well with us, for without you it goes so ill for us. Have pity upon our efforts and our strivings towards you, for we can avail nothing without you.

Teach me to seek you, and reveal yourself to me as I seek, because I can neither seek you if you do not teach me how, nor find you unless you reveal yourself. Let me seek you in desiring you; let me desire you in seeking you; let me find you in loving you; let me love you in finding you."

St. Anselm of Canterbury, bishop : Proslogion, 1.

Prayer :

O God, You inspired St. Anselm with an ardent desire to find You in prayer and contemplation among the bustle of everyday occupations, help us to take time in the feverish rhythm of our days, among the worries and cares of modern life, for conversation with You, our only hope and salvation! We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord…..

22 July 2009


Once a year I go on an Opus Dei week-end retreat. These start Friday evening and conclude on Sunday afternoon. I will be on retreat this week-end - and so I thought I would write a few words now - in Jeremiah's memorable, and invariable, letter-opening phrase: "Just a few words to let you hear from me..." - as I won't be able to do so this week-end.

As retreats go, a week-end isn't much of one. The famous Ignatian retreat lasts four weeks - though it is normally undergone only when facing large life issues, such as the possibility of marriage or the priesthood. Most priests go on a one-week retreat each year. There are longer retreat programmes available, but for most of us, money and time are limiting factors.

Money, yes. I don't think I ever thought about where the money comes from for 'Catholic things.' Those of you who know me well, and have read the little essay on how I became a Catholic, know how much John Henry Newman has meant to me. He will be beatified next year - the first of two major steps towards canonisation - and I ... well, I will not attempt to say how it makes me feel. But the whole party - and these things tend to be big ones - is supposed to be paid for by donations (I have sent a teensy bit). I think before I became a Catholic, I just imagined that somehow 'the Vatican' ... well, just paid for these things!

So we pay for retreats. They house us (in a local motel) and feed us. I doubt, really, that what we pay covers all the costs, but still, a week would be a stretch.

I am so glad I go. Sue goes on her retreat, too, once a year. These are 'silent retreats' - at least that means that we don't chat with one another about work, family, the news, whatever. The priest gives little mini-sermons from time to time. The rest of the time - most of it - we pray.

I was thinking, this morning at Mass, about my age. I will be 67 in September. I hope I am beginning to make some progress in knowing what life is all about. To be sure, I have done a little linguistic work; help out with the computer needs of the University; play my horn. By far the greatest worldly task I have done is to bring five children (remember Kathleen, my first-born, although not Susan's daughter) into the world. That is a gift of God and I thank Him for it.

Nevertheless, what life is about at bottom is this: learning to love God - and, in that loving, to love each person one comes into contact with - one's neighbours.

If only I had begun to learn that earlier - much earlier. I became a Christian only at the age of 27 - nearly forty years ago! My Christianity was, however, almost wholly self-centred. I was so glad of God, Who had saved me. He would give me - well, He would give me this, and that - and so He did.

It only gradually dawned on me that what He wanted most of all to give me was Himself. As I began to come to understand this, I found, eventually, the Catholic Church, where, I believe, I can receive Him in the fulness which He intends.

If I will.

To be open to God is not easy. One may believe one is open to God when, in fact, one is open only to His lesser gifts.

Well, I am beginning, at an age when many have rested from their labours, to understand this. Please pray for me that I will open my heart more, turn from the toys which He gives me to the full gift - the Giver Himself. Pray that this retreat will benefit me, and, through me, others. And you who are young - or not so young - waste no time, I entreat you. God is there. He has so much to give you. But it is not easy. We are so wedded to the things of creation that we fear to let go of them to turn to the Creator. He is there. He will give to you that which you desire most: Heaven - which is to say, Himself.

19 July 2009

Oroville house2

The living room was, to my 12-year-old imagination, huge.

Possibly this only means it was slightly larger than the living room in our Bakersfield house, but I do think it was very large. Into the front door (which, perhaps, we did not use very often) and turn right - the living room had no doors separating it from the hall, but a two-door-wide opening. It ran the depth of the house. On the right was a fireplace, again, very large. Next to that was something I thought exceedingly cool: a little cupboard opening into the living room, and with an outside door. Wood that we cut (Peter and I, using a two-man push-pull saw - what's a chainsaw?) and split went in there from the outside, came out on the inside.

Cutting that firewood almost lost me a finger joint, and did leave me with a scar I have today. Once I was idly (note: idly) chopping, with a hatchet, a finger-thin branch into lengths for kindling. Hmm... That was not the branch I just chopped, but the end-joint of the index finger on my left hand.

It didn't cut the bone and I don't think any doctoring ensued; just bandaging and being told what an idiot I was. But I am lucky (on that and other accounts) still to possess all my bodily bits and pieces.

That living room was the centre of our evening entertainment. The television was not there. This was the music room.

At the rear of the room was my mother's piano. My mother was a concert-quality amateur pianist. I wish I knew more of her training and experience. When, in 1968, my sister Robin was preparing for her final performance examination, playing a difficult modern saxophone sonata (I suppose it would be called), my mother was to be the accompanist. Having reared two girls with serious musical pretensions, I know that we paid, and paid well, accompanists for their examinations. My mother was very good. In the end, for other reasons, the examination never happened - but 'mom' - or 'mama' - would have done it and done it well.

Many evenings - I seem to recall at least a couple of times a week - we (my mother, Peter, Robin, and I) played music in that living room. My father was not musical. I think he played drums a little with us - nothing much else. But Robin on saxophone, Peter on clarinet, I on cornet, and my mother on piano, played the sort of 1930s and '40s dance band music that she liked - Hoagy Carmichael, Jerome Kern, others of that ilk - she bought music with parts and we played them. I remember those sessions with great pleasure. As we grew older I think it became more and more difficult to get us to sit down. As a father with grown children, I easily imagine the feelings with which she must have seen us get bored with doing that. Sad that one only readily empathises with one's parents when they are dead, or, as in my mother's case, far away and do not communicate readily.

There was - incidentally - an addition made to the piano later on - an electric organ. It used the piano keyboard - how did that work?? - and an enormously heavy external box full of vacuum valves. There was a little switch arrangement at the keyboard to turn it on.

I am doubting my memory. Did it really use the piano keyboard? Or did it have a keyboard of its own? Perhaps Peter recalls. I find it difficult to imagine how it linked into the keyboard of the piano - if it did. It would be much easier today, but with valves instead of transistors - and no computer logic! - impressive! My own days of electronic experimentation - the 1960s through 1980s basically - taught me how such things are done. But they took a lot of space, and lot of electrical power.

Hence the television my father built, which occupied a large-refrigerator-sized wooden rack he built. I may have to skip the dining room in order to talk about what we called the 'TV Room' - next time.

18 July 2009

Home alone

I will write something about the Oroville house tomorrow - but I am feeling maudlin this evening. Susan is in Australia. She has been enabled to visit Helen and Robert in Newcastle - but a nearly unalterable condition of her going away during the week is my taking leave to fulfill her newspaper-delivery contract. Susan's paper route is complex and it is very difficult to find anyone to fill in satisfactorily.

This isn't really a great problem. I have annual leave that I have to soak up, and was already (before this trip came up) scheduled to take leave from Friday the 24th through Monday the 27th, in order to go on retreat, so I extended my leave.

But I am lonely - and bored. I finish making my dinner; do the washing up; and then ... well, there is the computer. And I have many jobs that I probably should do. But without Susan, I am at loose ends.

Sue left here Thursday the 16th - two days ago - for Sydney, and took the train up the coast. It's only about a two-hour drive by car; perhaps a bit longer on the train, because of stops. Helen and Robert have a smallish house - three bedrooms, to be sure, but still a small house. Thursday night they had not only Helen and Robert, their two children Georgia Grace and Gus, but my sister Robin's two children Ka'ai and Kaleo, who are touring Australia and were on their way up to Brisbane.

So Ka'ai and Kaleo slept in Helen and Robert's room; Gus slept in his room; Robert slept in the living room; and Susan, Helen, and Georgia Grace slept in Georgia Grace's room. Close companionship :-) Yesterday, Friday, K & K continued up the coast, so I suppose things are little easier now. Later in this week Johnny is driving up from Sydney to spend some time!

Sue comes home next Saturday, the 25th - a week from today - but I won't see her until Sunday evening, when I get back from the retreat. Life in, if not the fast lane, at least in the lanes in which ships pass one another in the night.

It will be awfully nice to get back to what passes for normal around here.

11 July 2009

The Oroville House

Peter ('Unitman') has been so regularly correcting my errors (e.g. we appear to have had a television set in Bakersfield, which I do not remember at all) that I expect him to have a field day with this one. I note, however, that on his blog there are practically no posts at all, so I guess this underscores the old adage:

Those who can't do, teach. Those who can't be teachers are critics.

I expect to be told off about that, too :-)

The house in Oroville seems to me to have been very large - at least by modern standards. One's childhood memories exaggerate space and time, so no doubt it was not as huge as my memory makes it; it was, nevertheless, very big.

The builder seems to have had a bit of the neoclassical in mind. The house had two storeys. You approached it up a longish drive from the highway - perhaps 100 metres? - and the whole front of the house had a covered porch, with the cover held up by white cylindrical columns, with capitals and bases, Greek-style. The fairly large front door went into a wood (not carpeted - I think) entry way. Straight ahead is the stairway. To the right of the stairs is a hallway with a broom cupboard and the telephone.

I spent a fair bit of time in that broom cupboard, with that telephone. That was, you see, the way to get privacy with your telephone conversations. Take the 'phone - the cord barely reached - and go lie in the cupboard and talk to your mate or your girlfriend (with, I think, the danger of a brother or sister listening outside). Was there an extension in the house? I can't remember, but seem to think there was. Or was that because we had a party line?

Our first number was, I think, 1552-J. No dial. You lifted the receiver and the operator asked, "Number, please." We did have a party line, and we knew when the call was for us by - well, something in the pattern of rings. I don't remember what the pattern was.

I don't remember what family was on the same party line, either, but I do recall there was some fun connected with the fact of its being a party line.

Later we were converted to a dial telephone. Peter may recall the number. Hey! I think I remember the Bakersfield number, though! FAirview 5-3078. Is that right? Funny how these things stick.

And I am going to have to quit there. The house will take some describing. It had six bedrooms, living room, dining room, the room we called the 'television room,' kitchen; two bathrooms upstairs, one toilet downstairs. It was, indeed, quite a house.

Tomorrow (12 July) is Johnny's birthday. I wish I could be there to be with him. But Sue and I will be up visiting Eddie. Then next week, on Thursday the 16th, Susan is flying to Australia, to spend time with Helen and Robert up in Newcastle. I will be on leave, in order to do Susan's paper deliveries.

05 July 2009


Little post, because it has been a busy week-end, but I wanted to add something that harks back to our time in Bakersfield. It was the first time I saw television.

We had no television in Bakersfield. This did not mean that we were deprived of (or protected from, depending on your point of view) of the wonders of moving picture shows. There was a time - I do not recall exactly when nor how long it may have lasted, time being very different to a small child - there was time which may have lasted for a summer, possibly longer, when I recall us (all three of us?? Just me and Peter??) being at a local theatre for what was called "Saturday Matinée." We were there without our parents - of that I am sure - for westerns, slapstick comedy, even, occasionally, stage magicians. I seem to believe it cost $ .25 to get in. I remember it all with great pleasure.

On 2nd June, 1953 Princess Elizabeth was crowned Queen of England - and of a lot of other places as well; the United Kingdom and the whole Commonwealth, in fact. Our neighbours the Deweys had a television set. Did they buy it for the purpose of seeing the Coronation? Perhaps. I don't suppose the spectacle was broadcast live - how would that have been possible in 1953? - and therefore I assume we watched a film - a 'newsreel' - of the affair.

It was very exciting. I remember nothing of the coronation itself; I do remember being awestruck at the possibility of seeing movies in one's own home.

We got a television only when we had moved to Oroville. My father built it, and not from a kitset but - at least such is my understanding - from circuit diagrams in a magazine. It stood in a refrigerator-height open wooden frame, with no-doubt lethal circuitry all accessible to reach. It was, of course, black and white, and, naturally, used valves rather than transistors, which had only just been invented then. I don't recall exactly when this was but I would say about 1956.

When I went to University in 1960 student dormitories did not run to television sets. Edna and I had one (which I had built from a kitset) in Honolulu, from 1966 to 1968. I recall little of the rest of my life being much involved with the dread box. Certainly a generation later was much mastered by the world of television, but it has never been much more than a sort of novelty to me. No doubt this explains some of the ways I fail to fit in with the experiences of many.