September 6: A Quiet & Solitary Life (23 A)

“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts.” Psalm 95, 1-2.


Our lives require careful listening to God’s promptings. We should not shut ourselves off from God. Instead, we should listen to what God is telling us.

In his letter to the Romans, Saint Paul commands us that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. What a bold statement!

Today’s gospel passage from Matthew reports that where two or three gathers, Jesus assures: “there I am!” He is never far from any of us gathered in his name: at home, in our sometimes turbulent natural environment, or a humble parish church.

All experiences of faith require carefully listening to God’s voice.

August 16, on that early Sunday morning, I awoke to the sound of thunder, and from my windows looking out to the Monterey Bay, I saw the lightning, such an unaccustomed spectacle for our region. I did not realize at that moment how this sight would unleash firestorms to the south in Big Sur, to the east in Carmel Valley, and the north in the Santa Cruz Mountains.

If you were to draw a straight line from my apartment, continue across the bay’s expanse, you would connect to the tiny seacoast town of Davenport, with its bars and General Store, a pitstop on Route 1, for travelers between Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay.  In the mountains above Davenport and Bonny Doon, the forests of Redwood trees were aglow with destruction. We could see the white ash on our cars for days and smell the acrid odor of burnt embers.

According to the news accounts on radio, television, and in the local papers, seven people died in that fire. Tad Jones went missing when a search party bravely went back for him. There, his remains were discovered in his charred minivan, on Last Chance Road. Here is an enclave of people whose lives in these mountains is a throwback to an almost lost era amid the fragile beauty that is nature; and Jones was the lone soul who celebrated its wildness.

In his early seventies, Jones was a hermit. Born in Columbus, Ohio, he came to California after the Vietnam War, a veteran, and a man who lived a quiet and solitary life.

In an extraordinary piece of journalism, New York Times writers Thomas Fuller and Nicholas Bogel-Burroughs provide a portrait of Tad Jones. They describe one man’s life, his friendship with nature, and his concern for its creatures. The authors report that Jones got his supplies from General Feed & Seed Company in Santa Cruz; he would purchase bags of whole & cracked corn to scatter food for the animals. One person familiar with Jones said: “He kept part of the forest alive.”

The article “A Vow of Silence, a Cabin in the Woods, a Terrible Fire” appeared in the New York Times on Monday; it’s the remarkable story about one neighbor, like the others in our community that has faced challenging hardships and even unexpected death. Here’s the link:

On Tuesday, the first day in September, I was walking on the bike trail near San Carlos Beach. Looking out over the bay toward Davenport, for the first time in several days, I did not smell the smoke and fires. Instead, it was a sunny day in the late afternoon, and there was an ocean breeze, and for a split-second, it felt like fall.

All experiences of faith require carefully listening to God’s voice – as subtle as the crickets, but you have to listen mighty carefully.

Listen to this lovely passage; it comes from E.B. White’s “Charlotte’s Web.”

The crickets sang in the grasses. They sang the song of summer’s ending, a sad, monotonous song.

“Summer is over and gone,” they sang. “Over and gone. Summer is dying, dying.”

The crickets felt they have to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever.

Even on the most beautiful days of the whole year – the days when summer is changing into fall – the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.

Jesus, too, tells us that to love our neighbor as ourselves, we must always listen to their gentle voices and value their lives, no matter how different.

In such a spiritual quest, we attain an “eternal life” – a summer without end!

Rosary Chapel, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, CA.

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