As had been announced last week, Holy Cross Abbey held a special reception to introduce friends of the Abbey to the Film Project, Saving Grace, Saving Place, beginning with a Mass at 2:30 PM.
Abbot Robert Barnes celebrated the Mass with Fr. Maurice concelebrating and Br. Efrain serving as acolyte. Abbot Robert welcomed our guests–42 had responded to the open invitation but about 20 more joined them–and preached informally and directly to the heart of the matter and to the hearts of the congregation. After Mass the guests squeezed there into the narrow Chapter Room door for light refreshment and found their seats for the conversation that followed.
Film Maker and Producer, George Patterson (Picture Farmer Films) opened the conversation, explaining how his quarter of a century life in the Shenandoah Valley began as a camera man working on someone else’s film. Living here, drew him into an awareness of the ecological responsibilities married to this location. Executive Producer, Deidra Dain, who, with Lisa Anthony (of In Faith Publishing and a Parishioner of Sacred Heart Parish, Winchester) organized this event, considered the Cistercian tradition of stewardship of the land as a way of reverencing God’s creation. Without any vocabulary for contemporary environmental concerns, our Cistercian forebears were sensitive to nature, not just for its beauty and utility, but as the “foot prints” of God, the vestigia Dei, bringing us closer to our Creator. In the monastic context, stewardship is not ideology but a spirituality, an expression of faith and in concrete practice.
Our visitors were then treated to viewing a short trailer, voiced over by Abbot Robert, connecting this place to this Vocation and the challenge now posed to perpetuate this vocation for future generations in a world of contrary values. It was impressive to witness how attentive our guests remained, and even deepened, during the viewing of the film clip.
The second part of the conversation grew livelier. A sketch of this community’s growth in awareness was traced back to the Strategic Planning begun in 2007, facilitated by Prioress Cecilia Dwyer, OSB (St. Benedict’s Monastery, Bristow, VA). In identifying our gifts and resources, every member of the community mentioned our land and location and its role in fostering our relationship to God and the welcome it affords our visitors. Since the process of our planning involved the input of each member of the community, our youngest member offered the possibility of a Sustainability Study conducted by the School of Natural Resources and the Environment of the University of Michigan. Their Masters program offered graduate students the opportunity to study a concrete site and evaluate it in terms of environmental practice and responsibility. Their 400 page plus thesis, Holy Cross Abbey-Re-Inhabiting Place (2010), with its recommendations, has been a guide to the community’s projects and commitments for environmental sustainability. In the conversation, the sense of our vow of stability, according to the Rule of St. Benedict, to a particular community in a particular location (“lovers of the brethren and of the place” according to St. Steven Harding, the second abbot of Citeaux) opens us up to recognize the interconnectedness of life and the sacredness of the natural world, which we even celebrate in the liturgical seasons that orient our life of prayer. We do not come to the cloister just to insure our individual salvation but to pray for the salvation of the entire world and, by our common life, witness to the Gospel. The enclosure and silence that characterize our vocation is not to shut out the world but to focus our mindfulness so we might hear God speaking through the world he created, rather than the noise we humans generate to block out that divine call.
After viewing the second, longer trailer, which considered the impact of this place upon our neighbors and trace something of our growing awareness in better practices and the positive impact we can have for the broader local community, our visitors grew more vocal. It was a good discussion and I’ll highlight just a few observations. One guest asked what percentage of the recommendations from the University of Michigan we were implementing. Abbot Robert responded that it’s less of a check-list and more of an evolution; we’ve already covered many areas suggested by the team of graduate students but it’s more a question of deepening our understanding through trial and error and fine-tuning what we’ve begun. Another visitor commented that an “enclosed community” can seem to an outsider like a cocoon, just nurturing its own life; but the trailers they had just viewed allows them to what’s going on inside the cocoon and how, what the monks are doing here, weaves a larger web of life effecting everyone. How helpful it would be to know what other monasteries are doing! What a helpful example this is to other land-owners or farmers! And a third visitor asked pointedly, what are we doing to “save the community”? That is, to insure our continued existence? Abbot Robert responded that apart from reaching out to the broader community and raising our profile, most importantly, we pray. We pray for vocations, we pray because we live a life of prayer; we pray because when we do pray we are being what we are called to be: men who life out that relationship with God that is prayer.
Among our guests was Dr. Bruce Rinker (Valley Conservation Council), a fifth generation resident of the Shenandoah Valley, “a scientist and man of faith”, as he described himself. Bruce reminded us of the ancient Hebrew in the Book of Genesis which we translate as Adam “dominating” the earth. It’s original nuance is one of responsibility, care-taking, stewardship and not of exploitation. Two Lay Cistercians, Maryle Ashley (Dean) and Mary Ann Rehnke helped serve and set up chairs and welcome guests for the event–and participated in the discussion. Also present were members of the production crew, Kevin Raullerson, Director of Photography, Augusto Gomez, Audio Engineer, and Nancy Sanders, Editor. Allow me to note that it’s not just the natural beauty of the setting that is yielding a beautiful film, but the clarity, color values and composition of Kevin’s digital photography that beautifully captures the subject. The layers of sound that Gus Gomez brings to the film are so focused and lifelike that a few months ago, when George was showing the trailer to an interested patron, and I was busy talking to someone else, the sound of the recorded church bells made me jump. I thought I was late for the first Vesper bell! Nancy’s intelligent, story-telling editing literally makes the film. I felt it was significant that these talented contributors–as well as George and Deidra–felt that the discussion had gone very well and was communicating what this film is about, and was already getting the message out there.
For more information about the film, check out the website of Picture Farmer Films