Black Friday: Unplugged - A Meditation on Our Contemporary Matrix

Today is called Black Friday in the entire United States. A term that encompasses a culture that cris-crosses California to Maine and New York to Florida. Black Friday were the words chosen by the Philadelphia police back in the 1960s to describe a new phenomenon of massive numbers of people creating a traffic jam in the desperate attempt to get out to the stores and buy products on the day after Thanksgiving. Since then we have more than lived up to the name in the ever multiplying numbers of products and the ever increasing numbers of people desperate to buy them. Ours is a culture determined to consume more and more things and people without any wise limits in sight. Black Friday is really a national symbol of the way we think, and relate to things and each other- the way we live our lives.

Flashback some years ago to a popular film called the Matrix. Here was a movie about a culture where everyone was plugged in to a network of machine and computer. The machines controlled those plugged in and created a fantasy world where individuals could get and have anything they wanted. Of course all of the getting and having wasn't real and the price of all this was the loss of our very humanity and freedom. The story follows the adventures of a small group of people who have become unplugged and who are determined to resist the dominant culture and lead a rebellion to free others from the control of the Matrix. Good story.

Like most science fiction this story says more about our present situation than it does about some future one. Our day has seen the rise of a corporate political and economic system that is truly global, reaching into every life everywhere. We are all plugged in to what some have called a consumer and consuming culture. Others have called it by different names. President Eisenhower once called it the military-industrial-congressional complex. Some today would add to that list the media ,which is seen to be the mouthpiece of this complex . And others would add to that list our religion as well. Our contemporary Matrix is very effective and all pervasive indeed. Just watch any TV or read any magazine.

What's especially insidious is that this Matrix invades and controls not just our politics, our economy, our congress, our religion, and our media but it penetrates and lives inside each one of us in the ideas and feelings, values and beliefs we think are our own. Recently I came across a book. Actually it is being loaned to me by a young person who recently visited and who is out to change the world and become more and more unplugged. The title of the book is : SEX , ECONOMY, FREEDOM and COMMUNITY. The author is Wendell Berry. Without a doubt, this is one berry worth picking.
Here's how Berry begins the book:
Dear Reader,
"This is a book about sales resistance. We live in a time when technologies and ideas(often the same thing) are adopted in response not to need but to advertising, salesmanship and fashion. Salesmen and saleswomen now hover about us as persistently as angels intent on " doing us good" according to instructions set forth by persons educated at great public expense in the arts of greed and prevarication. These sales people are now with us, apparently, even in our dreams."

Berry goes on to say that:

"... the first duty of writers who wish to be of any use even to themselves is to resist the language, the ideas, and the categories of this ubiquitous sales talk, no matter from whose mouth it issues. But then, this is also the first duty of everyone else."

So, how might we creatively resist ? There are many excellent responses to this question. Let me offer just one that is not original at all but is gleaned from the lives of individuals like Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King. More and more we need to see things as they really are. All these people struggled to do just this. They spent hours and days, weeks and months in silence, prayer, inner searching, thought and study to see what was happening both within themselves and in the so called world outside. Gandhi is said to have spent one hour every morning and one hour every night in meditative silence. Each week he devoted every Monday to complete silence and prayer. As they began to see more clearly they began to discern what way they wished to go in order to bring about a greater freedom and fulfillment in their own lives and in the lives of those around them. In their discernment they learned to distinguish the good from the better, the false from the true. In many ways they moved toward a greater simplicity and focus of life. And as they acted on this discernment they gained even more wisdom and more peace: the wisdom and peace of lived experience. So, one simple way forward is to give ourselves to this inner work every day. For a few moments each day to consciously unplug, to be in the silence, to pray, to meditate so we can grow as they grew.

A caution: with all these individuals their wisdom and peace came at a great price. In various ways, they were all rejected by family and friends, by the religious and the highly educated, by the cool and hip culture of their day. The Matrix reacted. Their wisdom led them to be with those who suffer and struggle the most in society. Their lives were lived against the current grain of their culture and they experienced the consequences.

Perhaps when the next Black Friday comes around we will be more deeply rooted in the freedom of our inner life and more unplugged from the culture that compels us to consume.

From Long Island , New York with Love,
Your little brother,


Listening to the Young...

Soon, some young people will be visiting me in the River House to share in prayer , work and conversation. I am very much looking forward to being with them . One thing is clear to me: many young people today are learning a great deal about peace and working very hard to create a more peaceful world. At the same time many are rejecting official Church and Christianity . As I listen to them I hear one young man say;" I don't believe in Christianity anymore. It has lost its credibility." Another young woman says;" I can't go to Church anymore. It is so negative and moralistic." All the young people I meet are searching for meaning, purpose and a way of living that is full of goodness and joy. Some find it very difficult to distinguish between happiness and joy; between superficial good feelings and a deep and lasting joy of life.

What are we learning from them? What do they need from us?

Just yesterday I heard a young Christian man speak of his desire to become friends with a Muslim man . It was a matter of honest human connection and not an issue of shared religious belief. The old categories are falling away. In their place are emerging mutual respect and understanding. Along the way, a greater awareness and a new sensitivity to people and language is growing. This is beyond political correctness. It is a burning desire to communicate in fresh , new language, the realities of faith. The old language is in need of transformation in order to facilitate a deeper human communion and to release the wellsprings of the spirit.

On Thanksgiving Eve Wednesday, November 25 I'll be in Long Island, New York to lead an inter-faith gathering. The chanting then will include new language such as" May All People Live in Peace; Live in Justice, Live in Peace." " May All People Live in Truth; Live in Wisdom, Live in Truth." And this: " Deep Within a Song is Heard; Deep Within My Soul." " Sing the Day and Sing the Night; Sing the Darkness , Sing the Light." "Oh...Ghra Ma Chree" ( Irish for " Love of My Heart").

Many are struggling to find and create new ways of expressing the beauty and goodness of the tradition . That is surely the task of every generation. When we clear away the dust and cobwebs( read negativity and moralism) we see the essential. Music can do that. So can prayer.

For those of us who seek to follow Christ there is much to learn and un-learn. Perhaps the best way to move forward is by listening. Take the time to listen more deeply within to our own inner life. Take the time to listen without to the things and persons in every moment of our lives.
No judgement. No rash reactions. Only deep , calm, awareness. For out of this pool of contemplation comes the wisdom of response.

Your Little Brother,
Stefan Andre


Let's Build a Community of Peace...

From August 7- September 7 , 2009 we held a Pilgrimage of Peace at Rolling Ridge Retreat Center in West Virginia. About 300 people came through. Some stayed a day or two, others a week or more. Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox and those who are seekers came to sing, pray, share in conversation and meals, and work together. Many states in the U.S. were represented and even a delegation from Russia arrived to visit. As a result many things have emerged. Over the past three weeks I've been invited to speak and share music at various places including the National Cathedral in D.C., Georgetown University, Contemplative Outreach in N. Virginia, Camp Pecometh in Maryland, and a meeting of Sojourners' interns. At times some young people have accompanied me in these visits. Delightful all...

When asked what they need from the church many students at Georgetown University responded by saying that they need community and a new way of being church that welcomes, affirms, and includes everyone. We need to listen to such voices more deeply.

In the upcoming weeks we'll hold meetings in different churches, retreat centers, and colleges. All of this is to seriously/playfully work toward the creation of a new ecumenical community - a Community of Peace. I want to invite you to join with us in this joyful work: to create a new community that will be similar to the community of Taize in these ways: first, it will be deeply ecumenical - both Catholic and Protestant; second, it will be a community of reconciliation with a special heart for young people and the poor.; third, it will live a daily common life with a beautiful sung prayer of original music that all can participate in. It will be different in this way: it will be a community of men and women; a community of equality. Little by little, day by day, we will build ...

Some have expressed an interest in exploring life in such a monastic community . Others want to support the community in various ways. There is a growing ground swell of interest and support. It's an exciting time...

I cherish your prayers and thoughts.

In Peace,
Your little brother,


Christ and Craic, Guinness and God...

After a month of revisiting my favorite places and people in Ireland some things are becoming clearer. Some of the most deeply moving experience and wondrous wisdom comes out of places and people that are rejected by the institutional church and labeled as secular by many. I cannot say it enough... there is no such thing as secular! Everything and everyone is infused with divine presence and beauty. Everyone! If we could only see one another as we really are. I wish I could describe some of the things I've seen and heard. Imagine a room full of men, women and children, elbow to elbow, singing and telling stories and listening to each other with loving eyes, affectionate smiles and encouraging voices. This is Marrinan's Pub in Milltown Mallbay during the Willey Clancey week. This is a sacred moment if ever there was one.

The Irish have a word " craic" which describes fun, wit, banter, stories, laughter... In some of those moments Christ is seen so clearly. The laughing, loving Jesus is too seldom appreciated today. This deeply human Jesus is the greatest source of vibrant faith and deep wisdom. Great "craic" is something that everyone deserves to experience. Great "craic" is something that every church needs to experience on a regular basis. " Craic" needs to be busting out of every pulpit and every pew in every church! If anyone is a master of craic it's Christ and those whose very life is brimming over with Christ.

What always fascinates me is how we can relax after a pint or two of Guinness. The conversation flows along with the good beer. Often we are able to say things that we need to say but are afraid to say for whatever reasons. Sometimes very important things, indeed. Words of truth, love, forgiveness. I picture Jesus at the wedding of Cana. He's dancing, singing, and drinking good wine. He's speaking freely with his friends and family. He's flowing along with the gathering along with the wine. Remember the story...he actually provided some of the best wine( and I dare say craic) himself!

I imagine his eyes as he looked on his friends and his mother. Radiant, warm, so in love with others. Half of what he says he says with a twinkle in those eyes. His smile...his joking around. Ahh...here comes that "craic" again. It 's all part of being a whole human being, isn't it? And my God, we need more whole human beings.

I guess what I'm trying to say is this: let's stop dividing our lives in categories. Let's stop splitting our psyche . It's truly a painfull thing. Let's stop trying to be something we think we should be and simply be what we are - beloved children of a most loving God. Rest and joy in that. Let's live divided no more. Let's begin again and again to live whole lives...wholly passionate, wholly in love with God and one another, whole and full lives...full of Christ and craic, Guinness and God.

In Lovely Ireland,

Stefan Andre


Return to Ireland...with Love - a poem and a story

I want to share a little about this place and people that have captured my heart and mind. To begin, here's a poem that I wrote while living in Ireland during 2006-7.

Farewell to Ireland with Love
Here's a wee poem that I wrote which expresses my own feeling about that magical place called Ireland. While I lived there especially in the place called Glendalough I would walk the hills and everywhere I went I could hear the sound of water flowing . This music filled me beyond any words and brought to the surface a depth of feeling that still sings. IRELAND Ireland... this land that sings in secret, dark, and luscious things. Ah, this lovely land that streams her scented song in flowing verse and phrases long. O'er blue green hills and golden gorse cross mossied rock and nettles coarse. Oh, breath! Oh, Song! I feel your rising roar til op'ning earth can bear no more - she cries, she cries and joyful pours from glist'ning eyes to list'ning ears...her ancient Celtic tears.
( Dedicated to Catherine , my friend and muse. )

A short story...
I walked into the International Hostel in Dublin the other day and after registering I sat down for some breakfast in the cafeteria. No ordinary place ,the windows are all stained glass and the hand carved wood along the walls tell the story of a place that was once a church. Now the raised platform at the front serves bread and coffee instead of bread and wine and travelers that gather here may never see each other again. Still, a feeling of calm and peace pervades this place and I savour it. Conversation flows and I make some new friends from Italy who are visiting for the week. As you walk out the door in plain sight is an old confessional made of worn wood. No longer a dark place where sins are confessed it has been transformed into a telephone booth where glad news as well as tragic and the mundane are sent and received around the country and the globe.
Walking into the lobby I'm met with the exquisite harmonies of a Mozart Mass being sung by a visiting choir from Spain. After all is said and done I feel like I've been to a very satisfying Church. Welcome to the Bread of Life!
Makes me wonder...How can we"do" church in a way that is life-giving? How can we transform the old paradigm which is dying away into the new? What do we need to let go of? What are we called to embrace?

Irish Blessings...
Stefan Andre


A New Community Like Taize in the U.S.?


I'm including a recent letter I wrote to Taize friends on Facebook. I would like to share it with you and hear your thoughts.
Thanks very much!

Greetings Taize friends! I want to ask you a question. But first some background...For the past ten years I have been going to Taize and often accompanying young people there. It has been SO good! But a thought and a prayer has been forming ever since the first visit in 1999. Could something like Taize be born here in the U.S.? A community devoted to simplicity, sharing and celibacy , offering a deep welcome especially to young people. Since then I have traveled the country and Europe and the thought/prayer has only intensified. Do you think that a community of reconciliation, like a Taize community, would be a good thing for the United States? Would you like to see this happening? Why? or Why not? An invitation: if your answer to the above question is yes, then I invite you to consider coming to Rolling Ridge Retreat Center this August for perhaps the beginning of this realization. During August 2009 we will hold a Pilgrimage of Peace. Every day, as in Taize we will sing/pray, share meals, work/ play and share in conversation/teaching about the essentials of peace.For more info contact me at stefan@songsofpeace.net or Bob Sabath at http://www.rollingridge.net/ My website: http://www.songsofpeace.net/
My e-mail: stefan@songsofpeace.net
Bob's email: bsabath@sojo.net

For a full description of the upcoming Pilgrimage of Peace and the story behind it go to:

To listen to some of the music we'll be singing in August go to www.cdbaby.com/cd/sawaligur and www.cdbaby.com/cd/sawaligur2

A closing quote:
'The renewal of the church will come from a new type of monasticism which only has in common with the old an uncompromising allegiance to the Sermon on the Mount. It is high time men and women banded together to do this'
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in a letter to his brother



Black Birds, Blackberries, and the Work of Resurrection

Today is Easter Sunday , April 12 , 2009 - a good time for a little reflection. I want to begin in perhaps an unusual way by commending to you the poetry of Seamus Heaney, Irish poet born in 1939 who, among many things , was the recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995. Google and youtube his name and unexpected delights are there for your enjoyment. In an attempt to draw out some fresh meaning from the topic of the Resurrection of Jesus, I would direct your attention to two poems by Heaney: first, there is the poem entitled " St. Kevin and the Blackbird; and then - " Black-Berry Picking". If you've ever been to Ireland you know that both Blackbirds and Blackberries are to be found in abundance though the former can be seen at all times of the year , while the latter make their all too brief appearance around August .

So, what do Blackbirds and Blackberries have to do with Jesus' Resurrection? First, like the traditional Christian belief in a physical, bodily resurrection Heaney's two poems, like much of his work, is all about physicality - the deep appreciation of the body with all it's senses. The Blackbird is felt in the palm of St. Kevin's hand ...its " warm eggs, small breast, tucked head and claws..." Kevin's entire body responds to this encounter later in the poem as he holds the little creature " for weeks" until the eggs are hatched. Turning to the poem about blackberries we see something similar. Both pleasure and pain are expressed in these memorable lines: "... You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet, like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it, leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for picking..." And later... " where briars scratched..and thorns pricked..." This momentarty burst of blackberry life lasts all too short and is cause for the poet to weep.
On to Jesus' resurrection. Remember who saw the first glimpse of the newly alive Jesus? It was Mary as she sat weeping. It was only through tears that she saw the resurrected Jesus. I think sometimes we expect a sanitized Easter - a quick fix, fast and easy resurrection. We forget that Easter and resurrection are a messy business that require being with paradox, longing and the awful waiting. There is work, labor, and even tears that bring about new life and that every time. Whether it's blackbirds and St. Kevin or blackberries in August...For us to experience any of it there is patient, and painstaking work to be done. And, lest we forget - joy in the doing.
The poetry reminds us that resurrection comes through our deepening experience and embrace of everything this world is . The poets and saints have always known this.
So have the black-berry pickers.

Some closing lines from St. Kevin and the Blackbird...

"... Alone and mirrored clear in love's deep river...

to labor and not seek reward...

finding himself linked into the network of eternal life...".

The Blessing of Blackbirds and Blackberries to You
This Resurrection Day,

Stefan Andre


Interior Silence in a Very Noisy World...

A few thoughts on something that is seldom talked about - interior silence. Many of us appreciate the times when all is quiet and we can enjoy a few moments of relative silence giving us opportunity to go within, to think, to feel, to be more aware. When this happens and for some it happens on a regular , daily basis, it is very good. But what about those moments, which can be many, when we cannot avoid the noisiness of the world around us? What then? Is it possible to find that tranquil island within ?
As I sat in my morning quiet time today it was anything but quiet. Outside I could hear workmen drilling, sawing, hammering, and chit-chatting away. Feeling a bit annoyed and momentarily murderous, I was about to give up and postpone my "quiet time" until later in the day when Wally the Workman was done and quiet was restored. At that moment a story came to mind. Do you know this story? It's about St. Bruno and the frogs. It goes something like this:

Once St. Bruno, who was a very devote man, was beginning to pray when he heard the croaking of frogs in a nearby pond. The croaking was disturbing to Bruno who was finding it difficult to concentrate on his prayer so he did something to silence the frogs. Being a very holy man he was able to speak to animals and they understood. So, he raised his voice in one loud command and ordered the frogs to be quiet. They obeyed. When Bruno returned to his praying he was now disturbed by the thought that maybe God enjoyed the croaking of frogs. " Ridiculous", he said. But the disturbing thought remained and grew stronger. Finally Bruno could bear it no longer . He lifted up his voice and apologized to the frogs for his insensitivity and invited them to begin to croak again. This they did with even greater enthusiasm and vocal display. When Bruno returned to his prayer this time , he welcomed the frogs croaking as part of it all and smiled. He realized something. " Everything belongs ", he thought.

This little story reminds me that in our often noisy world we can find interior silence by welcoming everything, even the croaking frogs in our life. With Bruno, we can remember that " Everything belongs."

Stefan Andre


Richardson...Anderson... Corrie...Keeping Perspective

Most recently two people in our world were critically injured. One has died and the other remains in critical condition. Sincere sympathies to the family of Natasha Richardson. She was a movie actress who fell in a skiing accident, and well known in the international media. The fate of the other person - Tristan Anderson, an American who was shot by the Israeli army for his non-violent protest of the Israeli separation wall, remains uncertain. The reason I mention these sad incidents is this: while the international media covered Natasha Richardson day after day from the moment she was injured, the coverage of young Tristan's suffering and political stand goes on with virtually no coverage what so ever from the American media. WHY?

The " news" that we receive here in the United States from newspapers, television, and even the internet remains critically flawed. Its' selective coverage is embarrassing at best and detrimental to a society's mental and spiritual health. It reminds one of a futuristic novel in which the government/media control the information that people get to such an extent that creative, original thought has all but disappeared.

Our response to such biased reporting must be one of thoughtful questioning, and rigorous research into the reasons and effects. Further we must continually call for a change ( remember -the Yes , We Can slogan) in our media structure and funding sources. Who funds our major media outlets and what biases are being promoted through these corporations?

Life in Israel/Palestine is of utmost importance to us all. The suffering of the people there is something we should know a great deal about. Our media gets a failing grade on their reporting on real life there and especially on the life of Palestinians who have lived for so many years under the controlling occupation of the Israeli government/military.

We recently passed the 6th anniversary of the death of Rachel Corrie, a young American who was killed by an Israeli bulldozer as she tried to prevent it from demolishing a house in Gaza.
How much did we hear about this? Again, nothing. Why the silence. If she was a movie star or a prominent politician perhaps then we might begin to value her life, and her death. Enough.

However we can, let's do speak out and call for honesty and courage in the way we think about this world. It's risky and there will be plenty of opposition. So what!

Remembering Natasha, Tristian, and Rachel...

Stefan Andre


In the Midst of it All...Love at 32,000 Feet

Just a brief reflection on this Inauguration Day. Recently, I was on a flight to San Jose, CA seated in 16A , a window seat. Next to me was a woman and next to her was her mother of 91 years of age. I want to somehow communicate to you the significance of the conversation that I overheard between these two people. There was a genuine delight in the tone and in the words themselves. A playfulness, and affection that was so obvious. Each seemed very at home with the other and each was able to truly listen and respond to the other in loving speech. Their gentleness extended beyond words to tender expressions of caring in touch and at one moment in the mom's laying her head upon the shoulder of the daughter. Their whole way of relating was full of thoughtful attention and keen interest in the other. I later learned that the mom had recently lost significant portions of her eyesight and so the flowing conversation was also a compassionate passing of the time since the mom was unable to read.

As I reflected on this later it struck me that of all the events going on this past week and those upcoming including the historic inauguration of the new President, this moment of loving between two people was the most significant. For at the heart of it was something that is essential for human transformation be it personal or political. In the creation of something new whether in our personal lives or in society in general this one ingredient must, above all else, be present. Compassionate loving is , more than, brilliant ideas or political strategy, the key to it all.

" In order to create something of lasting value, there must be a dynamic force.
And what more powerful force is there than love?"

Igor Stravinsky

A Blessed and Peace-filled New Year to All and especially to the mom and her mom in 16B and 16C.

Stefan Andre


A Prayer for the New Year

The beginning of this new year finds me tucked away in the quiet of rural North Carolina with two adorable friends - Sophie the dog, and Danny the cat. When I'm not engaged in playing with or caring for these little creatures there is plenty of time and space to think and ruminate on the passing of one year and the arrival of another. Or perhaps in the playing and caring I find enough meaning . So just a few thoughts in the form of a prayer that for me is both playful and compassionate.

It's been just over a year now that I returned from living in Ireland for two years. Back in the United States I have been struck by many things that seem to characterize us as Americans in this country. My friend , Rachel, in England , likes to remind me of the distinct differences between " you Americans and we English." Somehow in her description we Americans always come out looking like a comic character in a badly played tragedy. So, to be a bit more balanced , I do see us as a highly creative, and even ingenious people. There is clearly a pioneer spirit about us that has both a feline curiosity and the determination of a pit bull. We seem to really enjoy a good fight and some would say that violence is especially embedded in everything we say and do from political speeches to popular music. Perhaps...This past year has seen a remarkable outburst of the American spirit. For the first time in our history the majority of Americans have elected an African American to be President of the United States. And at the same time we have had a woman as a serious contender for both the office of President and Vice-President. What's happening to us? Some ask this in joyful expectation while for others this question comes out of sheer panic.
Simply put, there has been a shift. It may be that the United States is finally catching up to the post-modern world where lines are not drawn quite so clearly and there is room for just about everything and everyone. One hopes...
In the midst of this shifting societal sand I would like to offer a prayer. My prayer is that we may begin to see differently and with new eyes. May we not be so quick to judge, dismiss, and label the other, but rather with new eyes may we see the other, in humility, as we do our own self.
My prayer is that we may begin to see the world with new eyes. May we see those in other countries as we do our own selves. They are not the enemy. There is no enemy. May we list and mourn the dead and wounded of every country and not just our own. May we refuse to make war - on our own selves. May we work to heal, to feed, to clothe the people of every nation , including our own.

This year is the 800th anniversary of the official founding of the Franciscan movement - a community dedicated to peace and the transformation of this world in love with all people's and creatures. The founders of that community, Francis and Clare of Assisi, lived out their dream of peace. May we do so as well. May we see this world and ourselves with new eyes. May we begin to see this world as God sees this world ... becoming more playful and more compassionate - and smile.

Together with Two of God's Adorable Creatures -Sophie, and Danny ,
A Very Happy and Peace-filled New Year to Everyone!
Your brother,
Stefan Andre