A LETTER FROM THE ‘BALALLY BOY’ IN BERKELEY

A LETTER FROM THE ‘BALALLY BOY’ IN BERKELEY TO THE PEOPLE OF BALALLY.
Dermot Lane, 2 December 2018

As you know St.Paul loved to write letters to the churches he left behind him in his journeys.

Without pretending to be a St. Paul, I wanted to send you warm greetings from Berkeley,
California as we approach Christmas I’m enjoying my sabbatical time here and learning each day what I do not know! Berkeley is a University city with some 40,000 students. I am registered as a student
in the Jesuit School of Theology which is part of Santa Clara University and the University of
California at Brackley.

There are 12 of us on sabbatical: two diocesan priests from Ireland, two
religious order priests from the US, four Jesuit African priests, one African religious
sister, and three religious sisters from Asia. So as you can see we are culturally a very
diverse group and we learn a lot from each other Our liturgies seek to take account of these different cultures. We in the West, (ie, the US and Europe), tend to be rather rational, cold and vertical in the way we celebrate liturgy. For the Africans, the mood is different : one of movement with singing and
celebration, and the orientation is horizontal. For the Asians, liturgies are reflective,
peaceful, and focused on the interior life, having a strong sense of the immanence of God. I am now more convinced than ever that our liturgies should be a mix of all three cultures.

There is a strong emphasis on spirituality, liturgy and pastoral ministry within our program.
We started the sabbatical experience by going away on retreat for several days. The retreat
opened with a reflection from Thomas Merton which is worth sharing with you:

“There is within us an instinct for newness, for renewal, for the liberation of a creative
power. We seek to awaken in ourselves a force which really changes our lives from
within. And yet the same instinct tells us that this change is a recovery of that
which is deepest, most original, most personal in ourselves. To be born again is not to become somebody else, but to become ourselves”
(Thomas Merton, Love and Living, 1979: 196)

These verses have stayed with me for the last few months. There is food for
thought for all of us within these lines from Merton, whether we are in Balally or Berkeley.
I have registered for two courses: one on the relationship between religion
and science and the other is a Readings course.

I have noticed in our classes and liturgies that there is a strong emphasis
on deepening the different levels of consciousness that exist within our experiences of
life, of each other, and the mystery of God. There is also a focus on getting in touch with our own
interiority and identity, of going beyond the surface of life to look at the world from the
inside out. I recently took a” gentle Yoga class” to help me do this. I found it
challenging. I am not sure, however, that I will continue with it. Indeed, I must confess that it is
hard to teach an old dog new tricks. The body may not be agile enough !

As a sabbatical group we visited the well-known “Muir Woods” in San
Francisco (called after John Muir, a conservationist). Some of the trees in the woods, especially
the redwoods, are over 1000 years old. These trees reach for the sky with extra-ordinary
elegance, dignity and beauty. I was very struck by the description given to different locations
of the wood:

“The Cathedral Grove”, “Nature’s Temple”, “the spirit of the forest”. I watched and listened to a
young family walking in the woods: a mother and father and three children. The youngest
child turned to the rest of them, with his finger up to his lips saying

‘Shee… You’re not allowed to talk here’.

That child had sensed what I had experienced: a sacred space and place.

This experience of the Muir Woods reminded me immediately of Isaiah 55:12

“For you shall go out in joy and be led back in peace;
Mountains and hills before you shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands ”

Some of the Psalms are written in a similar idiom and issue a call to
Nature to praise God:

“Sing to the Lord all the earth”

(Ps.96:1)

Perhaps more striking are the verses that follow:

“Let the heavens rejoice and let earth be glad
Let the see roar and all that fills it,
Let the fields rejoice, and everything in them,
then shall all the trees of the wood shout for joy before the Lord”

(Ps.96:11-13)

Some weeks later, we had the tragic Californian wildfires, bringing death to over a hundred
people, the destruction of some 140,000 acres of trees in Northern California, and the
dislocation of around 200,000 individuals . Some lost their lives while trying to drive away
from the raging fires. What happened is indescribable: the loss of life, the destruction of
wildlife, and the annihilation of beautiful trees.

In the Berkeley area where I am living, smoke and ash descended from Northern California.
All classes, meetings and services were cancelled for a week because the air quality was
categorised as “unhealthy” and we were instructed “to stay indoors”, all of which of course
was a minor inconvenience in comparison to what so many thousands had experienced and
suffered.

In the midst of this destruction of life, limb and land, we had the publication of climate
Reports containing dire warnings about the damage we humans are inflicting on mother
nature.

There was the Inter-Governmental UN report on climate change in October 2018. This
pointed to the changes needed in all aspects of society to prevent global warming, to reduce
extreme weather events, to curb rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice and the
wiping out of island peoples. Secondly, we had the US Report on Climate Change in
November 2018, issued by 13 federal agencies, indicating that failure to act now will cost
the US economy hundreds of billions of dollars. And thirdly, we had the EU Report from the
European Environment Agency, 2018, deeply concerned about the lack of progress in
addressing climate change.

In spite of all these negative reports, I am still hopeful that global warming can be reduced
and that climate change can be controlled by the collective efforts of scientists,
governments, economists and financiers, the religious leaders of the world, and the
inspiring vision of Pope Francis in Laudato si. And why am I hopeful?

Two reasons come to mind immediately. There is the upcoming 2018 United Nations
Climate Change conference (COP24) currently taking place in Katowice, Poland, from 3
December- 14 December 2018. This meeting will review the implementation, or lack of
implementation, of the 2015 Paris agreement on climate change. It is also expected that this
important gathering will call for immediate action to keep the global temperature below
1.5°C.

Secondly, Pope Francis has convened a Synod of Bishops for the Pan Amazon region, to take
place in Rome for October 2019. This synod will gather people from Bolivia, Brazil,
Colombia, Ecuador, French Guiana, Guyana Peru, Suriname and Venezuela to discuss
“Amazonia: New paths for the Church and for an Integral Ecology”.

Let me conclude by saying that I think of you often, especially at liturgies, and the many
wonderful activities going on in the parish. I continue to thank God for the privilege of
serving in Balally Parish for 25 years and for the many kindnesses of so many in the parish
over those memorable years.

I wish all of you Advent Hope, Christmas Blessings, and interior Peace throughout 2019.

I look forward to being back among you in early February 2019.

Best wishes for now,
Dermot