No fuss, no lust, no narrow mind

Back when I was a mere young adult of 22 years, I ventured to spend an intern year in Kingman as a seminarian. The idea came to me out of the blue. I wasn’t ready (in fact I was loathe to) go on to Theology in Camarillo having just graduated from St. John’s College. I thought that if I spent a year in a parish, I’d glean a more accurate picture of pastoral ministry than I had already gotten from my hanging out at the Cathedral.

So many people had misgivings about my plan, but I stuck to it. My pastor, Fr. Smith, gave me encouragement. In the end, I wound up spending a year in, what the pastor Pat Duggan called, “literally and figuratively, the asshole of the diocese.”

He had a way with words.

He also had a motorboat out on Lake Mohave. My introduction to pastoral life, along with a co-worker Mary Paulch, was to drive the boat and act as spotter while Fr. Duggan went water skiing. Realizing that we had forgotten to bring water (it was fiercely hot that September afternoon) Pat stood on the bow of the boat, and shading his eyes, looked around at the other parties on the lake. “Ah, I know them” he cried and began to wave his arms to get their attention. Within minutes, beer cans came sailing into our boat, saving us from dehydration. Such was the start of my life as an intern in Kingman.

Looking back, it was an incredible experience. It was the first time I wasn’t in school. I was treated as an equal among the various players of that wacky year — Evelyn the housekeeper, Terry from St. Paul who wound up marrying Ulton, Pat’s brother, Ulton who was the principal of the school, Mary Pauluch, Bob, Sister Cecilia, Fr. Glass, Blue the cat, the Aussie shepherd that we adopted whose name I’ve forgotten — these plus so many more colored my 9 months internship that was filled with adventure, tragedy, accomplishments and failures.

Somehow, at the end of that internship, I had the idea to do a retreat at the Spiritual Life Institute in Sedona at Nada Ranch with Fr. Bill McNamara OCD. I don’t remember how I found out about him. I may have read his book The Art of Being Human but however it came about, I went to Sedona for a three or four day retreat.

On the tool shed awning, they had re-worked the traditional vows of religious life, poverty, chastity, obedience, into the modern jargon: no fuss, no lust, no narrow mind. There were always people hanging out at the main house — I never was quite sure who lived there and who was a guest. I did meet Tessa, I admired their beautiful Russian wolfhounds, on occasion I met McNamara and others at the Chapel of the Holy Cross which he was using as his spiritual base for talks and liturgy. It was there, in the library, that I first heard Bernstein’s Mass.

Looking back, these forty six years later, I’m agog at the energy and drive that I possessed at that time, exploring trails of thought and experience that, like Castaneda’s roads in the desert, wind and dip and wander into areas of new wonder. I was like a blood hound, sniffing and poking my nose into all sorts of new and exciting possibilities. I didn’t quite know where I was going, but I was on my way.

This train of thought has been triggered by my re-reading Eddie Doherty’s Windows of the Desert which I came across when I would hear confessions at Our Lady of Refuge in Long Beach. On those quite Saturday afternoons and evenings, between the pious murmurings of the compulsively sinful, I read passages of Doherty’s musings from his life as a priest and celibate partner to Catherine Doherty, the author of Poustinia. Even there, in reading her book on the ways of capturing moments of contemplation, I’ve pursued avenues of monastic prayer and meditation. I guess even the pursuit of McNamara’s Nada ranch and the SLI was a way of quenching my thirst to find a prayer or means of realtionship with God that was more than a cursory saying of prayers.

After I finished Doherty’s book, I went to Google to look for McNamara. “Abba Willie” as he was known in the end, died at the venerable age of 89 over two years ago in San Diego, shortly before I moved back to Arizona. Amazing. I was reflective of his brief influence on my life that has had such a persistent impact on my life. He, and my time in Kingman, shook me lose from the calcified structure of the religion I’d known as a Catholic kid and allowed me to branch out, to try my fledgling wings at embarking on a journey with god, to god, in god, that sustains me today.

No fuss, no lust, no narrow mind. Progress, not perfection.

 

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