Thursday, August 6, 2009

The Journey Is More Important Than the Destination

One of my favorite places is St Francis Retreat, which is situated in the mountains near the central coast of California. St. Francis Retreat, in spite of being a bit (oh, let's face it, a lot) off the beaten path, has been home to a large number of friars and monks who have done much for the local community and beyond. I know because St. Francis is home to the Secular Franciscan Order in which I am a candidate. In addition to wonderfully restorative and mathemagenic (gonna make you look up that word -- once a teacher, always a teacher) periodic retreats that attract retreatants well beyond driving distance, the priests at the retreat regularly substitute at the local church masses and provide personal counsel to individuals in search of spiritual advice; the retreat has an active spiritual direction program, which includes external qualified & certified spiritual directors. So, when St. Francis caught on fire in June 2006, the community was in shock. A significant piece of history and a significant source of spiritual growth was gone overnight. Fr. B, the newly arrived, not-so-young (oh, let's be honest, elderly) director had an immense task at hand: raise 6 million dollars to re-build or close down. No one wanted to close down, and so the rallying cry became "Bring Back St. Francis." While the bringing back has been going on, SFR has continued to hold retreats, provide spiritual direction, offer a home to retired and not-retired priests and monks, and actively serve the community, doing it out of pre-fabs. The journey is coming to an end after three years of fund-raising: the ground was broken in the spring, the structure is now up, and the new building is slated to open in September. I have heard Fr. B worry that the goal will not be reached, but they are now only $385K short. (If anyone feels inclined to donate, there is a way to do so on the SFR site.)

Reaching the goal, however, in my opinion, was never the most important thing. The journey to the goal was far more important.

As a result of the fire, SFR will have a far more modern, green, and spacious building than they would ever have attempted to build as long as the old building remained. (Hmm...)

This spacious building is very likely to bring far more users and retreatants to SFR because the space is there and the high-tech is there. While the proof in the pudding is yet to be tasted, the financial health of SFR, therefore, is likely to improve even in this bad economic climate. (Hmm...)

Bringing back St. Francis has instigated people to work together (and get to know each other) who might never have met before but who have become supportive friends now. Even those who have not been extensively involved have known that their $5 gifts or whatever amounts they could afford have been added together with larger ones to make building possible. It has become a community effort, a community, that is, of believers. (Hmm...)

I have always known that SFR would be rebuilt. I do not know how I knew. I just knew. My friend, Bennie, also knew and told Fr. B that. His prayers are nearly always answered, and he just simply expected this one to be answered as well. For others, the trust was not as implicit as it was with the two of us (and some other folks), but over time the trust that God would provide geometrically increased. (Hmm...)

Hmm...perhaps, indeed, the journey is more important than the destination.

When the fire came in 2006, I was living in my Land of Splat!. I would loved to have helped, but I had no real money to do so. I did have complete trust that God would fill the coffers needed for rebuilding and I had evidence that God would take care of me financially. After all, God dumped $11K on me when I needed it for the IRS, overcompensating the need by $400, which became my first contribution to the Bring Back St. Francis fund. After that, I began a little experiment. I promised God to give the "extra" money that came my way to SFR, and extra money started coming -- book royalties, merit increases, retention incentives. Soon I was up to $600 extra a month -- an amazing amount for someone living in the Land of Splat! who had spent most of her life with the chihuahua of poverty nipping at her heels (someone who still sometimes has to wait until the next paycheck in order to have a family dinner at a nice restaurant). Then, the diocese offered to loan SFR money against pledges so that the construction could begin on the building, and Fr. B asked me if I would turn my $600 per month donation into a pledge. Hmm... Now I was going to have to trust that God would keep throwing those extra dollars my way. Well, in for a dime, in for a dollar. "Okay, God, I am going to be at your mercy!" I upped the ante to $10K per year for my pledge, a nice round figure, and made a 5-year commitment. Scary thought: a $50K pledge from someone of modest income, inhabiting what has been sometimes called a poor man's art town, and living quite modestly in a small two-bedroom rented house. God was really going to have to help this time. That level of trust flabbergasted many people (mostly those who do not know me), but I know God will provide. Since making the pledge, an additional $350 per month as fallen into my lap from work-related additional income (I only needed an extra $250 -- overcompensation again), and that looks like it will continue through the end of the year, after which, there is the annual bonus and likely a small pay increase. Ah, fishes and loaves -- God sure knows how to multiply them! I certainly am glad that I joined this SFR journey because whatever the destination will be, I have learned a lot along the way, especially about trusting God. (Perhaps that was the plan! Hmm...)

As I think about the concepts of "journey" and "destination," I am compelled to note that we tend to want everything now. I am no exception although I am trying to be. We think we need some "stuff." We want to have it now. We think we want to be able to do something. We want to do it now. For example, I wanted to bring Katya of Tula to the USA for Orphan Cry. I wanted to do it now. God said "Cool it; let me do My part." Years ago, I met Shura and took him into my home. (His story will be coming soon as a continuation of the series about the professionals who have served as angels in my children's lives). He was at the time a dying Siberian child artist, and I wanted to bring him to the USA immediately for medical help. It took a year. When we don't get what we want right away, we think God has not answered our prayer. As Tolstoy said, God waits. We may never know why God waited. It is not important that we know. We just sometimes think it is.

On many occasions, I have found the destination to be great but the journey greater. The journey encourages spiritual and interpersonal development, allows time for miracles and time to see the miracles, and builds faith and trust. So, you see, the journey is more important than the destination.

(And, in terms of "destination," this is what has distracted me from writing this week. I am working at Kaneohe Bay, Hawaii, picture below. No time to swim or surf -- I'm not much good at either, anyway -- but the natural beauty is so spellbinding that no picture can really capture it.)

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