Sunday evening, Steve and I decided to take our dinner and glasses of wine out to the picnic table on the driveway at New Camaldoil Hermitage. Though silence is observed in the monastery’s guesthouse and surrounding area, guests are allowed to talk on the driveway. The weekend had been full of rich conversation, silence, chanting and praying. On our final night, our work complete, we decided to visit while watching the sun set over the ocean.
The monastery’s driveway has a stunning view of mountains dropping into the ocean. In that setting of beauty, conversation flowed easily. Before we knew it, the stars were out in full glory. 50 miles from the nearest small city, it was an incredible display of light in the night sky.
Eventually it was time to head back to our rooms. Without the moon or flashlights, all we had to chart the course along the cliff edged drive was starlight.
It was enough.
Wisdom and Money
Harvest Time Board Members Steve Bonsey, Rachel Parikh and I gathered at the New Camaldoli Hermitage recently to explore the relationship between the wisdom stream in Christianity and Harvest Time’s work with money. We were there to discuss questions such as “What do we mean by wisdom and what does it have to do with money?” All of us, and others in Harvest Time, intuit that there is a connection. We came to the monastery to see if we could find a way to better articulate it and offer it to others.
On Friday night, Steve and I shared stories of our friend Helen Daly over dinner. We told Rachel about her choice to walk toward death as a doorway deeper into love and the amazing transformation we saw happen in her husband and her friends after she died. Steve and I also told stories of how we have sensed Helen’s presence after her death and the way her vision and hopes are now moving into the world through her money, funding amazing work. “Helen is teaching me about resurrection,” I said.
The next morning after lauds, we gathered again to reflect on how each of us has encountered the Christian wisdom tradition. One of us described the pulsing energy of love that was present at the beginning and that is somehow embodied in each of us. Another talked about kenosis and the unraveling of self that happens so that a deeper Self can emerge. Another spoke about the magnetic attraction of love and how once our hearts become attuned to that it is only a matter of time until our lives do, too. Wisdom, one of us offered, is a path into darkness where we encounter the God beyond God who is pure love.
On Saturday afternoon, Father Cyprian Consiglio, the prior of the Hermitage, joined our circle and shared stories from his own exploration into “perennial philosophy,” the wisdom of the world’s traditions. The experience of divine love on the meditation cushion, he said, is not the end point of the spiritual life but the beginning. “It has ruinous consequences,” he said with a smile, meaning it changes our lives. Father Cyprian also described the fact that Christianity does not see the material world as illusion, but embraces samsara as nirvana. He gave an example of fixing sewer lines and caring for his aging brothers. “What is not holy,” he asked, “in caring for my elderly brother?”
When we asked Father Cyprian about the connection between the world’s wisdom traditions and money, he confessed that he is new to thinking about it. Prior for a little more than a year, he is still in the process of stepping into his role of managing the finances of the monastery and the fundraising. “My experience is that people are generous,” he shared. “When I was living in Santa Cruz as a hermit, people often gave me food. It was as if there was some primal desire to help me live.”
That evening, I pondered the way that Harvest Time serves as an intermediary between the monastery and the marketplace. Just as the monk asks “What is not holy about caring for my brother?” Harvest Time asks, “What is not holy about money?” Still, it is not easy to manifest our experience of God’s love with our money. That is where Harvest Time comes in, offering friendship to Christian people who seek to embody their experience of divine love in their financial lives.
The next morning, I woke feeling discouraged. It is not uncommon for me to touch into my shadow at the monastery. The silence of that place and the lack of distractions create space in which un-integrated voices from within sometimes surface. In the moment, I never know which inner experiences hold wisdom I need to listen to and which come as a form of inner cleansing, like sweeping the dust out of the closet. I have learned to not worry about it too much and to simply be with the feelings that emerge. That morning I sat with an experience I sometimes have of feeling like a “voice in the wilderness.”
On my way to the chapel, I met up with Steve and we reviewed our questions for Father Bruno, an elder monk who I think of as a “mystic theologian.” I love to listen to his sermons when I visit the monastery, as they weave together beauty, inspiration and thoughtful theology. I especially love the sermons he gives at Christmas. One midnight mass, for instance, he said that if you want to know where Christ is being born now, put your ear to the ground and listen. Another Christmas he instructed us to follow the lights “and if you can’t see the lights, follow the people who are following the lights.” He was talking about finding our way to the post midnight mass Christmas party, but even that was a meditation on mystery. He is like that.
We gathered in the chapter room behind the chapel and briefly explained to him the nature of our inquiry. It did not take long for Father Bruno to see the connection between money and the wisdom tradition. Wisdom speaks the language of the heart, he said, and attracts, even seduces us into God’s love. Later, when we are in that reality, we need to deal with the prophetic dimension of Christianity, but even then it must be sourced in the gratuity of God. As Father Bruno spoke, I was struck by the words that he used to describe the wisdom tradition: delicious, luminous, gratuity, freedom, sweetness, and fragrance. He also distinguished between spiritual streams that focus on that experience of divine love and others that emphasize social justice. The Christian path of wisdom, he suggested, is about divine love in history. It deals with the prophetic tradition, but it does not speak the language of justice or exchange. Lady Wisdom speaks the language of the heart.
Though the intellectual content of the conversation was fascinating to me, I was aware of something else happening in the room, too. As I listened to Father Bruno, I could hear God responding to my morning lament, with great tenderness, reminding me of things I already know, holding them up so I could see them clearly. I thought of the words of the woman at the well. “I just met a man who told me everything I have ever done.”
Afterwards, Steve turned to me and smiled, “You must feel very affirmed in your work.”
Steve and I left the monastery at 5:30 am on Monday morning. For an hour and a half we made our way along the stretch of route 1 that winds along the mountains of Big Sur in silence, our own version of vigils. Though the road was dark, I knew that we were surrounded by beauty.
Near Carmel, I turned to look over my shoulder at the coastline behind us. The light of the morning star was just beginning to radiate over the mountains.
Back home now, I can still feel the radiance of the monastery here in my heart. It’s as if a part of me is still sitting at that picnic table delighting in the feast on God’s holy mountain.
Sometimes when I return home after the monastery, I feel like I need to shift gears, as one world closes and another opens. It can be like a grinding.
Today I am wondering if there is another possibility. What if the monastery and the world are not nearly as separate as I sometimes imagine? What if the love and beauty I experience in that place are not meant to stay there but are the beginning of the journey of embodying the love of God in the world? And what if that is exactly what we are called to do with money?
I think that is the invitation that Harvest Time is meant to share.