Sunday, May 24, 2009

Memorial Day and a Birthday

Tomorrow, May 25th, our nation will celebrate Memorial Day with parades and picnics, band concerts and speeches. Tomorrow is also my Dad's 88th birthday. He is a very proud veteran of service in World War II, the Pacific Theater, as a member of a United States Air Corps Weather Reconnaissance Unit flying out of Guam.

Last year he was invited to be the speaker at his town's public celebration of the day. He may very well be the oldest veteran in residence. It was evident that he was delighted at the prospect. His patriotic feelings run high. His concern for the state of our nation is obvious. He has an excellent mind. Plus, the speech would be given on his birthday. What a gift!

But as the day approached this year it became apparent that a precious opportunity for photo-op and glad-handing on the part of local politicos was going to infringe on my father's allotted time. Rather than shorten the speech he had already prepared thereby giving short shrift to the message he wished to deliver, he bowed out.

Dad, forgive me the few edits. I hope they serve your message.

Reflections on Memorial Day
by Helmut E. Nimke

Rosemary Bennett wrote:

If Nancy Hanks
Came back as a ghost,
Seeking news
Of what she loved most,
She’d ask first,
“Where’s my son?
What’s happened to Abe?
What’s he done?

Poor little Abe,
Left all alone
Except for Tom,
Who’s a rolling stone;
He was only nine
The year I died.
I remember still
How hard he cried.

“Scraping along
In a little shack
With Hardly a shirt
To cover his back,
And a prairie wind
To blow him down,
Or pinching times
If he went to town.

“You wouldn’t know
About my son?
Did he grow tall?
Did he have fun?
Did he learn to read?
Did he get to town?
Do you know his name?
Did he get on?

Nancy, he is here with us.

The privilege and honor of a Memorial Day “Last Hurrah” has been given to me in this President Lincoln’s bicentennial year. And so, please bear with these personal reflections of an old man, on his 88th birthday.

Our nation is blest in that our war heroes come in such a variety of identities and convictions. Yet, they have a single common denominator; their oath to primary duty, to “support the Constitution of the United States.”

Memorial Day is not a wake. Lincoln made it a thanksgiving and call to duty. Our thanks are due those who, in their service to this nation, paid the highest price. To their honor, hero or victim, willing or unwilling, with or without conviction, the value of their service, as the objective of their oath, survives.

Since 1789, members of the armed services have sworn at enlistment, “I will support the Constitution of the United States.” For our Commander-in-Chief, the Presidential oath reads, “preserve, protect and defend”; a duty properly one step higher. These oaths have no expiration dates. Survivors, as I, carry the duty still. The Constitution is a “Contract”, the guarantor of the assertions of the Declaration of Independence. As such, it has been made the subject of the oath of service sworn by the President and all those we honor today. As citizens we share that same duty to each other as a legacy.

President Lincoln is in the pantheon of war dead. He is with us still as mentor. At the most trying time in our history, he left a profoundly prescient summary of the foundation of our Memorial Day and our patriotic duty.

On November 19, 1863, Lincoln dedicated a cemetery at Gettysburg where rested those who died in the 90 decree heat of the first three days in July of that year. The 4th of July saw Lee’s unopposed retreat. The battle had cost 6,000 killed and 27,000 wounded; losses felt to this day.

At the conclusion of his famous dedication speech Lincoln said:

It is for us the living…to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is… for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

The work Lincoln bequeathed continues every day. Lincoln seems to have written these words yesterday. He spoke of the “People”. The Constitution of 1786 begins with the words, “We the People”. These words were made real in1789 with the addition of the “Bill of Rights”. The Constitution is still democracy at work.

As to Lincoln’s “New birth of the freedom”, the States of the Confederacy worked at aborting that. Under fraudulent ‘States Rights”, domestic terrorism and disenfranchisement were to follow for over 70 years; the Constitution not withstanding. Without legal restraint, from 1866 to 1876, more than 3,000 African Americans and their white allies were murdered by terrorist organizations as the South de-constructed Lincoln’s re-construction.

Bi-partisanship and brotherhood were not children of that war. The Ku-Klux-Klan ruled while wearing the mask of religious virtue, in the manner of terrorists with whom we are familiar today. The rebirth of such groups with their neo-nazi flavor darkens our constitutional horizon. Terrorism is no stranger to America.

Having sworn to “protect” the Constitution at my own induction in 1942, the Army thought I could do that best in Meridian, Mississippi, where my bride would come to share its honeymoon attractions. As Yankees, it disturbed us when the Negroes stepped into the gutter to allow us free passage on the sidewalk. It shamed us. The Army was right; the Constitution needed “protection”. The population, along with the Services, were segregated by the “States Rights” rules of the Confederacy. There were many Whites in the South who, in personal hazard, abhorred it. Lincoln was saved all that.

In his wisdom, Lincoln had urged:

The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty and we must rise to the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew and act anew. We must dis-enthrall ourselves and then we will save our country.

All wars, good, bad and the many undefined, have a way of turning blood into gold. That of the many for the few. Today we are dedicated to sending our heroic youth to feed the dogs in Iraq, Afghanistan and wherever policy opportunity affords.

In its April issue, the American Legion Magazine writes, “There is a very small percentage of people who are sacrificing an awful lot in what is soon to be the longest war in our nation’s history.”

The valor of ordinary citizens in support of the Constitution also deserves Memorial notice. By their effort, the Confederacy, as the North, has been made to do substantial social laundry with constitutional detergents and law. The rough road was traveled with purpose by three young men whose defense of civil rights honors the nation.

Michael Schwerner, James Chaney and Andrew Goodman where murdered on Sunday, June 21, 1964, in Nesoba Country, Mississippi, by domestic terrorists of the Klan’s “White Knights”, dedicated to the destruction of Lincoln’s Re-construction and the “Bill of Rights”. A trial was held in Meridian, Mississippi concerning civil rights charges, but not murder. The terrorists are with us still, while, as always, our service youth, under oath, defend the Constitution and illuminate our duty.

Birthdays bear gifts. You’ve given me the gift of your attention and patience. I thank you. I gave you the memory of duty. In support, I provide you with the user’s manual entitled, The Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the Untied States”. Pick up a copy when we close. Study this booklet as a property owner’s mortgage contract, with fixed interest, never to be foreclosed, of “we the People” with each other and with those who govern. Only with every citizen’s dedication to it will this nation endure.

Thank you all for honoring this day and those ahead.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Time for Another Book Review

A Voice from the Past

Speaks Truth for Today

In the early 1980s I was devouring popular but serious books concerning the search for God. Spiritually I was in a state of arrested development, stalled at the point of Catholic high school graduation and suffering from the lack of adult re-education at the parish level after Vatican II. An experience of the At Home Retreat Movement in 1980 brought me to a new place, a place that included meditation on scripture, contemplative prayer, and a more intimate relationship with Jesus Christ.

One of the books I read at the time was Henri Nouwen's Genesee Diary, his journal of a six-month sabbatical spent at the Trappist Abbey of of the Genesee in New York State in 1974. I loved it then and remembered loving it throughout the intervening years. If asked why I held it in fond memory I probably would have had trouble saying exactly why, after almost 30 years. Surely the monastic milieu fascinated, but I couldn't put my finger on why I still remembered it as speaking to my heart.

Recently a hardcover copy that no one wanted found its way into my hands and I thought, "Why not re-read it. It might touch your heart again." Today, I believe that finding this book in my hands was no accident. It was, if not a divine intervention, at least a divine synchronicity. In simple terms, it was the answer to prayer.

Henri Nouwen, a Dutch diocesan priest, was taking a break from teaching at Yale University. He was already well known for a number of books including The Wounded Healer and Out of Solitude. His complex and very human personality was evident in his writing and may have been one source of his popularity. He often wrote about constantly struggling to love God and others in spite of his wounded humanity. In other words, he was very much one of us.

The journal is not unlike many other personal accounts of time spent in the monastic environment and community. Nouwen's is made unique by its detailed accounts of numerous conversations with his spiritual director during the months at Genesee. His guide was the abbot of the community, Fr. John Eudes Bamberger. John Eudes was not only a wise and experienced monk but a physician/psychiatrist and former Navy man. The import these conversation had for me was underscored by another odd fact of my second encounter with this book. Shortly after I picked it up again the journal Human Development, in its spring issue (2009), featured an article concerning just these interactions between Nouwen and Bamberger at the Abbey of Genesee!

Suffice it to say that I feel a great personal kinship with Nouwen's 'issues', the struggles he confided to John Eudes and his process of dealing with them. The next reader may not feel that particular kinship but I do think that the substance of these conversations will touch many. In the following quotation the word "monastic" can easily be dropped anso that we understand that this is the state of angst to which we are all prone.

"When the monastic life does not hold anything new any more, when people do not pay any special attention to you any more, when nothing 'interesting' is distracting you any more, then the monastic life becomes difficult. Then the room opens up for prayer and ascesis." (p.43)

On another day John Eudes advises, "Take this as your koan: 'I am the glory of God." Make that thought the center of your meditation so that it slowly becomes not only a thought but a living reality. You are the place where God chose to dwell, you are the topos tou theou (God's Place) and the spiritual life is nothing more or less that to allow that space to exist where God can dwell, to create the space where his glory can manifest itself. In your meditation you can ask yourself, 'Where is the glory of God? If the glory of God is not where I am, where else can it be?' ....."You want God to appear to you in the way your passions desire, but these passions make you blind to his presence now. Focus on the nonpassionate part of yourself and realize God's presence there. Let that part grow in you and make your decisions from there. You will be surprised to see how powers that seem invincible shrivel away." (p.53-54)

Nouwen's journal entries about his talks with Bamberger are the subtext of the journal. They weave their way through and inter-relate with Nouwen's experiences of the routine of daily life in a monastery and his interior reactions to it. But I found John Eudes Bamberger, spiritual director/ psychological counselor, speaking directly to me in their power and wisdom. Perhaps you will too.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Redemptoristine Regional Meeting


A Slide Show for Redemptoristine

North American Region Formation Workshop

The slide show below runs much too fast and does not have full captions as I intented. If you would like to see the pictures at a slower pace and with more detailed captions go to NEWS and VIEWS page of our website. Thanks for your interest. We had a great time growing in knowledge, unity and friendship. We were also blessed to be mutually encouraged in our vocations as contemplative nuns in the Order of the Most Holy Redeemer.