PHOTO BY MARILYN WILSON; PORTRAIT BY MICHAEL WILSON

Gathering Shards is Murray Bodo’s 32nd book.Piecing together

the story of a soul

BY TONI CASHNELLI

Fr. Murray Bodo jokes about the girth of his new book.

“Once I started I kept going,” he says of writing his 380-page autobiography, Gathering Shards: A Franciscan Life (Tau Publishing). “Now I can hardly lift it.” He’s a bit embarrassed about the literary importance implied by such heft. “Maybe we can use it as a doorstop?”

Asked by Tau to record the story of his life and his spiritual journey, he initially declined. “I thought it would single me out as somebody worthy of writing an autobiography,” says Murray, one of our foremost Franciscan writers of prose and poetry. “I felt my life was too ordinary to warrant something like this” – that it would seem pretentious or self-indulgent.

Then, he says, “I realized no life is ordinary, and when I had the opportunity to look at it, I see how extraordinary my own life has been,” from a halcyon childhood in the Southwest through days of doubt about the path he pursued, from friendships that helped him hone his craft to the inspiration he found in his adopted home, Assisi. He also realized, “I could not have written this book when I was younger. There’s a certain clarity that comes [at age 78] you wouldn’t have at the time you’re passing through it.”

Deeply personal

More than anything, Murray’s 32nd book is an appreciation of his parents and the friars, the friends and the places that shaped his spirituality and kindled his creativity. “My parents and others who loved me and believed in me and let me go are the real protagonists of these memories,” he writes in a foreward.

And because Shards is so personal, “It’s the hardest book I’ve ever written,” Murray says. “The scariest thing was self-disclosure. How much do you tell? How deeply do you get into it? I had the most anxiety when I sent it in and realized, people are going to be reading this! I have never felt that vulnerable.”

The book’s title comes from the pieces of Anasazi pottery Murray collected as a boy near the Navajo Reservation in Gallup, N.M. “The following pages, fragmented and flawed though they are, attempt to gather the shards of my life into a metaphorical pottery bowl similar to those I tried (and failed) to assemble,” he writes in a Dedication. Some of his published poems are the tissue binding the sections. “Poetry has been a way to process my inner life,” he explains.

An adventure begins

Pleasant Street Friary in Over-the-Rhine is about as far from Gallup as you can get. But it’s obvious that Murray’s office with its Native American rugs, pottery and panoramic paintings is occupied by a child of the Southwest. During the two years of “immersion” he spent writing Shards, he returned to Colorado and New Mexico, “revisiting the places of my youth. I could feel myself being renewed by the landscape. Someone once said, ‘Every landscape you love is the landscape of your youth.’”

The first segment of Shards, a narrative of childhood, is so vividly drawn it’s like stepping into one of the cowboy movies to which young Murray was addicted. Mom Polly and Dad Louie led quietly remarkable lives, as did many hard-working parents tested and tempered by the Great Depression and World War II. What’s striking and relatable is how lovingly Murray describes their sacrifices – and the guilt and gratitude he still feels so deeply. Imagine letting your only child leave home at the age of 14, watching him board a Greyhound bus bound for a seminary 1,500 miles away.

“I was 14 years old; it was a great adventure,” says Murray. “From the time I was 14 I’ve been a pilgrim, away from my roots. The pilgrim spirit is something very congenial to me. I am truly the itinerant friar.”

Though it’s the story of a soul, Gathering Shards is grounded in relationships. “If I only wrote about mystical experiences, that’s a pretty short book because we live an incarnational life.”

Through darkness

He writes candidly of his spiritual isolation as a Franciscan novice: “It was as if Jesus stood for the last time at the door of my soul and left without even saying goodbye. And no amount of prayer or fasting seemed able to bring him back.” Providentially, Novice Master Benno Heidlage came to his rescue. “Fr. Benno intuitively grasped the story of woe I shared with him; and having been there himself as a young friar, he empathized with the depression into which I’d sunk and deftly led me through this dark night of the soul with compassion and prudent counsel.”

As often happens in Murray’s life, the right person was there at the right time. “One of the things that helped me [write the book] was three long sections about the people who influenced me,” he says. Chapters are devoted to “those exceptional others” who were friends and mentors: poets Denise Levertov and Herbert Lomas, and Fr. Francis Harpin, who taught Murray about “authentic prayer” in Assisi.

He dreamed of returning to the Southwest as a missionary, but the Lord had other plans. Eventually, Murray found himself through teaching. “I realized I had more gift for doing what I was doing than as a missionary.” Ironically, “By doing obedience I found parts of myself. This became my familiar world, but it has never had the emotional or archetypal pull the Southwest has had for me. As a teacher I took the summers ‘off’ to be in Assisi” as a guide for pilgrims. “So in some ways, I was fulfilling my desire to be a missionary.”

Since 1972 when Murray wrote Francis: The Journey and the Dream, the book that made him famous, Assisi has been “a place vital to my spiritual, emotional and creative life….it clings to me the way this Umbrian hill town clings to a spur of Mount Subasio…”

“There is meaning”

While Murray was assembling these shards, “I was learning things about myself in the process. I realized that some of my best writing came out of the times I was broken. I’m not a saint; I’m a writer. It’s writing that helps me grow closer to God.”

After two years of research, recollection and re-writes – “it was fulfilling but draining” – he’s pleased with the way the pieces fit. “Somehow the book seems to cohere. I wanted it to be honest. My prayer and hope for every page was that whatever I was saying about myself would remind readers about their own selves. There is meaning, there is a pattern in our lives. My hope is that especially friars will think of their own lives and how special their lives are because they’re Franciscan.” Being a friar is “an extraordinary life to commit yourself to – full of riches you don’t think of day-to-day. I had the great privilege to have time to do that.”

The result is a substantial book about a substantial life. “I dropped three or four chapters,” says Murray, still mindful of the weight – and the cost – of his autobiography. “How much is this thing? Seventeen dollars? I don’t know anyone who can afford it!”

For those who cannot, here’s a spoiler alert: The book ends happily.

“What can I say of my life,” Murray writes, “except, ‘How blessed I am.’”

(Gathering Shards is available from Tau Publishing at: http://taupublishing.org/giftShopProductDetails.aspx?itemID=531)

  • Fr. Greg Friedman arrived in Jerusalem on Monday to spend a month working on articles for the Holy Land Review and promoting the mission of the Monastery of the Holy Land.
  • Jonathon Douglas has left the novitiate program. He expressed his gratitude to all the friars for their support during this timeout discernment. We wish him well.
  • Quiet, please! St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa., is sponsoring a week-long silent retreat, “Into Great Silence”, from Sunday, June 26, through Friday, July 1. Planners say no other retreats or programs are scheduled, “so silence is guaranteed for the participants of this program.” The fee of $350 includes all accommodations, meals, and program materials. To learn more call 610-258-3053.

 

They put their hearts into helping

PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFM

BY TONI CASHNELLI

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

They are athletes who advocate for youth, activists who champion the underserved, families who persevere through tragedy to light the way for others. April 15 at its 44th Annual Community Dinner in Cincinnati, Friars Club said thank you to people like these who exemplify the spirit of giving.

It was the second dinner at Friars’ new facility but there were several firsts:

  • Honoree Andrew Whitworth of the Cincinnati Bengals and former teammate Dhani Jones autographed footballs and basketballs and posed for pictures with some very excited Friars Kids. “I believe in what they do here,” Andrew said.
  • Attendees browsed items offered for a silent auction before the dinner, then took part in a spirited after-dinner auction hosted (with gusto) by Chanel 12’s Bob Herzog.
  • The awards went high-tech, with video intros of honorees flashed on twin screens in the basketball courts, transformed into a dining room with artful lighting and décor.

“The whole atmosphere was very different,” says Annie Timmons, Friars Club Executive Director. “People told me [afterward] that it was a lot of fun, the best dinner they’ve been to.” A generous crowd – nearly twice the usual attendance – helped Friars raise about $80,000 for its athletic and Learning Center programs.

Introduced by Chanel 12 news anchor Rob Braun, who was returning for his 35th dinner, Annie previewed the awards presentation. “I would describe all of our honorees as ‘superheroes’,” she said.

Through his BigWhit 77 Foundation, “Andrew Whitworth has been a role model for many young kids,” Annie said of the Player of the Year. Friars Award winner Jeanette Altenau, TriHealth’s Director of Community Relations, is “a caretaker of the community.” And receiving the Francis Award were the parents of Lauren Hill, the courageous teen who spent her final months raising awareness about pediatric brain cancer and raising millions of dollars for research before she died.

At the lectern, Jeanette turned the attention to others like “the Franciscans, who impart their heart and soul” to ministries like Friars Club. Lauren’s Mom Lisa encouraged the audience to “find something to fight for.” And Andrew deflected the applause. “This is such a cool opportunity to be here,” he told the crowd. “You may think I’ve inspired kids, but you inspire me.”

Spoken like a true superhero.

 

Congratulations to Eric Seguin.PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMAfter the ESC in Galveston, Texas, and a Provincial Council meeting in Easton, Pa., I find myself now in Chicago visiting the friars and attending meetings at Catholic Theological Union, our theology school. The running around is wearying, but on Wednesday morning, I experienced an uplifting moment of focus and renewal: I had the privilege of participating in Br. Eric Seguin’s renewal of vows. It is an awesome privilege to have a brother place his hands in yours, look you in the eyes, and promise to live—with us—a Gospel life of poverty, chastity, obedience, fraternity, prayer, and service. It is a moment of grace not only for Eric and for all the friars present, but especially for the one who has the privilege of receiving the promise. I wish every friar could have this opportunity; it gives some energy to continue living with freshness the life we have promised, perhaps years ago. Thank you, Eric for this gift; it is good to have you with us on the journey!

 

— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM

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Send comments or questions to: sjbfco@franciscan.org

ARCHIVES

APRIL 28, 2016

Piecing together

the story of a soul

BY TONI CASHNELLI

Fr. Murray Bodo jokes about the girth of his new book.

“Once I started I kept going,” he says of writing his 380-page autobiography, Gathering Shards: A Franciscan Life (Tau Publishing). “Now I can hardly lift it.” He’s a bit embarrassed about the literary importance implied by such heft. “Maybe we can use it as a doorstop?”

Asked by Tau to record the story of his life and his spiritual journey, he initially declined. “I thought it would single me out as somebody worthy of writing an autobiography,” says Murray, one of our foremost Franciscan writers of prose and poetry. “I felt my life was too ordinary to warrant something like this” – that it would seem pretentious or self-indulgent.

Then, he says, “I realized no life is ordinary, and when I had the opportunity to look at it, I see how extraordinary my own life has been,” from a halcyon childhood in the Southwest through days of doubt about the path he pursued, from friendships that helped him hone his craft to the inspiration he found in his adopted home, Assisi. He also realized, “I could not have written this book when I was younger. There’s a certain clarity that comes [at age 78] you wouldn’t have at the time you’re passing through it.”

Deeply personal

More than anything, Murray’s 32nd book is an appreciation of his parents and the friars, the friends and the places that shaped his spirituality and kindled his creativity. “My parents and others who loved me and believed in me and let me go are the real protagonists of these memories,” he writes in a foreward.

And because Shards is so personal, “It’s the hardest book I’ve ever written,” Murray says. “The scariest thing was self-disclosure. How much do you tell? How deeply do you get into it? I had the most anxiety when I sent it in and realized, people are going to be reading this! I have never felt that vulnerable.”

The book’s title comes from the pieces of Anasazi pottery Murray collected as a boy near the Navajo Reservation in Gallup, N.M. “The following pages, fragmented and flawed though they are, attempt to gather the shards of my life into a metaphorical pottery bowl similar to those I tried (and failed) to assemble,” he writes in a Dedication. Some of his published poems are the tissue binding the sections. “Poetry has been a way to process my inner life,” he explains.

An adventure begins

Pleasant Street Friary in Over-the-Rhine is about as far from Gallup as you can get. But it’s obvious that Murray’s office with its Native American rugs, pottery and panoramic paintings is occupied by a child of the Southwest. During the two years of “immersion” he spent writing Shards, he returned to Colorado and New Mexico, “revisiting the places of my youth. I could feel myself being renewed by the landscape. Someone once said, ‘Every landscape you love is the landscape of your youth.’”

The first segment of Shards, a narrative of childhood, is so vividly drawn it’s like stepping into one of the cowboy movies to which young Murray was addicted. Mom Polly and Dad Louie led quietly remarkable lives, as did many hard-working parents tested and tempered by the Great Depression and World War II. What’s striking and relatable is how lovingly Murray describes their sacrifices – and the guilt and gratitude he still feels so deeply. Imagine letting your only child leave home at the age of 14, watching him board a Greyhound bus bound for a seminary 1,500 miles away.

“I was 14 years old; it was a great adventure,” says Murray. “From the time I was 14 I’ve been a pilgrim, away from my roots. The pilgrim spirit is something very congenial to me. I am truly the itinerant friar.”

Though it’s the story of a soul, Gathering Shards is grounded in relationships. “If I only wrote about mystical experiences, that’s a pretty short book because we live an incarnational life.”

Through darkness

He writes candidly of his spiritual isolation as a Franciscan novice: “It was as if Jesus stood for the last time at the door of my soul and left without even saying goodbye. And no amount of prayer or fasting seemed able to bring him back.” Providentially, Novice Master Benno Heidlage came to his rescue. “Fr. Benno intuitively grasped the story of woe I shared with him; and having been there himself as a young friar, he empathized with the depression into which I’d sunk and deftly led me through this dark night of the soul with compassion and prudent counsel.”

As often happens in Murray’s life, the right person was there at the right time. “One of the things that helped me [write the book] was three long sections about the people who influenced me,” he says. Chapters are devoted to “those exceptional others” who were friends and mentors: poets Denise Levertov and Herbert Lomas, and Fr. Francis Harpin, who taught Murray about “authentic prayer” in Assisi.

He dreamed of returning to the Southwest as a missionary, but the Lord had other plans. Eventually, Murray found himself through teaching. “I realized I had more gift for doing what I was doing than as a missionary.” Ironically, “By doing obedience I found parts of myself. This became my familiar world, but it has never had the emotional or archetypal pull the Southwest has had for me. As a teacher I took the summers ‘off’ to be in Assisi” as a guide for pilgrims. “So in some ways, I was fulfilling my desire to be a missionary.”

Since 1972 when Murray wrote Francis: The Journey and the Dream, the book that made him famous, Assisi has been “a place vital to my spiritual, emotional and creative life….it clings to me the way this Umbrian hill town clings to a spur of Mount Subasio…”

“There is meaning”

While Murray was assembling these shards, “I was learning things about myself in the process. I realized that some of my best writing came out of the times I was broken. I’m not a saint; I’m a writer. It’s writing that helps me grow closer to God.”

After two years of research, recollection and re-writes – “it was fulfilling but draining” – he’s pleased with the way the pieces fit. “Somehow the book seems to cohere. I wanted it to be honest. My prayer and hope for every page was that whatever I was saying about myself would remind readers about their own selves. There is meaning, there is a pattern in our lives. My hope is that especially friars will think of their own lives and how special their lives are because they’re Franciscan.” Being a friar is “an extraordinary life to commit yourself to – full of riches you don’t think of day-to-day. I had the great privilege to have time to do that.”

The result is a substantial book about a substantial life. “I dropped three or four chapters,” says Murray, still mindful of the weight – and the cost – of his autobiography. “How much is this thing? Seventeen dollars? I don’t know anyone who can afford it!”

For those who cannot, here’s a spoiler alert: The book ends happily.

“What can I say of my life,” Murray writes, “except, ‘How blessed I am.’”

(Gathering Shards is available from Tau Publishing at: http://taupublishing.org/giftShopProductDetails.aspx?itemID=531)

  • Fr. Greg Friedman arrived in Jerusalem on Monday to spend a month working on articles for the Holy Land Review and promoting the mission of the Monastery of the Holy Land.
  • Jonathon Douglas has left the novitiate program. He expressed his gratitude to all the friars for their support during this timeout discernment. We wish him well.
  • Quiet, please! St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa., is sponsoring a week-long silent retreat, “Into Great Silence”, from Sunday, June 26, through Friday, July 1. Planners say no other retreats or programs are scheduled, “so silence is guaranteed for the participants of this program.” The fee of $350 includes all accommodations, meals, and program materials. To learn more call 610-258-3053.

They put their hearts
into helping

PHOTOS BY FRANK JASPER, OFM

BY TONI CASHNELLI

Heroes come in all shapes and sizes.

They are athletes who advocate for youth, activists who champion the underserved, families who persevere through tragedy to light the way for others. April 15 at its 44th Annual Community Dinner in Cincinnati, Friars Club said thank you to people like these who exemplify the spirit of giving.

It was the second dinner at Friars’ new facility but there were several firsts:

Honoree Andrew Whitworth of the Cincinnati Bengals and former teammate Dhani Jones autographed footballs and basketballs and posed for pictures with some very excited Friars Kids. “I believe in what they do here,” Andrew said.

Attendees browsed items offered for a silent auction before the dinner, then took part in a spirited after-dinner auction hosted (with gusto) by Chanel 12’s Bob Herzog.

The awards went high-tech, with video intros of honorees flashed on twin screens in the basketball courts, transformed into a dining room with artful lighting and décor.

“The whole atmosphere was very different,” says Annie Timmons, Friars Club Executive Director. “People told me [afterward] that it was a lot of fun, the best dinner they’ve been to.” A generous crowd – nearly twice the usual attendance – helped Friars raise about $80,000 for its athletic and Learning Center programs.

Introduced by Chanel 12 news anchor Rob Braun, who was returning for his 35th dinner, Annie previewed the awards presentation. “I would describe all of our honorees as ‘superheroes’,” she said.

Through his BigWhit 77 Foundation, “Andrew Whitworth has been a role model for many young kids,” Annie said of the Player of the Year. Friars Award winner Jeanette Altenau, TriHealth’s Director of Community Relations, is “a caretaker of the community.” And receiving the Francis Award were the parents of Lauren Hill, the courageous teen who spent her final months raising awareness about pediatric brain cancer and raising millions of dollars for research before she died.

At the lectern, Jeanette turned the attention to others like “the Franciscans, who impart their heart and soul” to ministries like Friars Club. Lauren’s Mom Lisa encouraged the audience to “find something to fight for.” And Andrew deflected the applause. “This is such a cool opportunity to be here,” he told the crowd. “You may think I’ve inspired kids, but you inspire me.”

Spoken like a true superhero.

APRIL 28, 2016

Congratulations to Eric Seguin.PHOTO BY FRANK JASPER, OFMAfter the ESC in Galveston, Texas, and a Provincial Council meeting in Easton, Pa., I find myself now in Chicago visiting the friars and attending meetings at Catholic Theological Union, our theology school. The running around is wearying, but on Wednesday morning, I experienced an uplifting moment of focus and renewal: I had the privilege of participating in Br. Eric Seguin’s renewal of vows. It is an awesome privilege to have a brother place his hands in yours, look you in the eyes, and promise to live ᅠ- with us ᅠ- a Gospel life of poverty, chastity, obedience, fraternity, prayer, and service. It is a moment of grace not only for Eric and for all the friars present, but especially for the one who has the privilege of receiving the promise. I wish every friar could have this opportunity; it gives some energy to continue living with freshness the life we have promised, perhaps years ago. Thank you, Eric for this gift; it is good to have you with us on the journey!

 

— Fr. Jeff Scheeler, OFM