Sharing the Stoke: Franciscan Spirituality

A few weeks ago, I wrote about Fr. Christian Mondor, ofm, a man who played an important role in my spiritual development. I was happy to share my private reflections on my blog, but yesterday I had the privilege of speaking publicly about Fr. Christian’s life and legacy at a paddle out held at the Huntington Beach pier.

As soon as Tim and I heard of Fr. Christian’s passing, we immediately texted Terry, a mutual friend. Though he’s not in the surf industry, he is the epitome of a “surf turkey,” always up-to-date on wave and water conditions and happy to talk shop. We knew there would be a paddle out to honor Christian’s life and we wanted to participate, but we didn’t expect Terry to ask me to speak.  (In Catholic circles, women aren’t often given the microphone at “priestly” functions.) However, Terry knows my love of the ocean and my passion for Franciscan spirituality.

I guess as a Huntington Beach native, former lifeguard, surf shop owner, student of Franciscan theology and friend of Fr. Christian’s, it just made sense.  

 

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It was a pleasure and honor to share my thoughts with a gathered community of like-minded people and I wanted to share them with all of you.  Tim was able to capture it on video, but you can also read the transcript below.

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Terry Thein asked me to say a few words today, not just because I was lucky enough to be raised here in Huntington Beach, where I come from a family of lifeguards – two of us here at city and two at state, but more importantly because I was raised at Sts. Simon and Jude by the Franciscans, including Fr. Christian who was one of those sandal-wearing, brown-robed padres of the Catholic church.

Everyone knew and loved Fr. Christian, but not everyone knows that much about the theology and spirituality that animated his soul and directed his life.

Professionally and personally, Fr. Christian followed the teachings and example of St. Francis of Assisi, a 12thcentury Italian saint. St. Francis lived a 1,000 years ago in medieval Europe, in a time not unlike our own, a time plagued by war and violence and economic and cultural upheaval. But instead of getting swept up in the fear or anxiety, or engage in the violence like so many other young men were doing, St. Francis’ mystical experience of God and Jesus allowed him to take a step back from what everyone was doing and double down on living in Radical Simplicity and Loving Community with all of the created world – human, animal and natural. And I know Fr. Christian tried to live his life that way as well.

Fr. Christian lived simply, unimpressed by titles and success – his own or others – and unattached to objects, except for maybe his banjo and longboard. And he lived In Radical Community – loving his own family, his Franciscan brothers, his church members, his banjo players, his fellow surfers, his swimming friends, his Jewish, Muslim, and Protestant sisters and brothers and he loved this place, Huntington Beach, and everyone he met here.

Fr. Christian also took to heart St. Francis respect for the natural world. In one of the few writings that have survived, St. Francis thanked God for his Brother Sun, and Sister Moon. He honored his Brothers Fire, Wind and Air. He thanked God for Sister Earth,our Mother. Most poignantly for our surfing padre, St. Francis specifically praised our “Sister Water, useful to us, humble, precious and pure.” 

Fr Christian’s love of the ocean wasn’t separate from his Christian faith; it was an integral part of it.

In the Franciscan tradition, the physical presence of the Divine is everywhere in this world. We call it the “First Incarnation.” God first showed up in the world as the world. We live in a sacred universe. We just have to wake up and see it. And Fr Christian saw it! He saw it in the waves and the water, in dolphins leaping, and whales breaching. Those are the easy places, where most of us see it too. But St. Francis and Fr. Christian kept going, until they saw the face of God, not just in every friend, but in the face of their enemies as well, until there were no enemies.

Perhaps most importantly, Fr. Christian lived by the words St. Francis reportedly said to his followers: “Preach always! And if necessary, use words.” Fr. Christian rarely used words, except in church on Sundays, which was part of his job description. But he couldn’t help but preach!

His life was a living sermon. He could not hide the love he felt for this fiercely beautiful world, or disguise what a blessing he thought it was to be in it. He was rarely without a smile on his face. Like the water he so loved, Fr. Christian’s goodness poured out of him and along with it came joy, peace, compassion, mercy, hope, intelligence, gentleness, and finally attentiveness.

Fr. Christian was fully present to the Presence of the Divine in each and every person he met, every note of music he played, and every wave he surfed.

Another Franciscan author and teacher, Richard Rohr, said it this way. He said, “saved” people always feel beloved, chosen, and favored by God.  And by all accounts, Fr. Christian was “saved” in the Christian sense of the word, but the beauty of Fr. Christian was that he “saved” so many of us, not by prayer, but by his presence in our lives. When he looked at us, we too were beloved, chosen, favored and hopefully, empowered to live and to love others as he did, as St. Francis did, as Jesus did.

Surfing was Fr. Christian’s hobby. Loving was his way of life. May we be inspired to go and do likewise.


 

Honoring Fr. Christian’s memory in the water with his fellow surfers. 

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It meant the world to me to share the morning with Finn who currently lives, works and surfs in Huntington Beach. At 19, I moved to San Diego to start my adult life and at 19, he moved back to my hometown to start his own. 

8 Comments

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  1. Thank you Ali for sharing this with us, especially since we couldn’t be there. He was a saint in my opinion who touched so many lives. I’m so proud of you for stepping up and sharing your thoughts with so many. I’m curious what was said out in the circle. Here in Hawaii, I’m observing that most surfers wait in a circle waiting for waves, instead of being strung out in the water. To me it says much about their sense of community.

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    • I have to be totally honest and tell you that I didn’t make it to the outside! I paddled out on a longboard during a set and got my butt handed to me! I’m not quite used to HB surf! But Tim and Finn and others said it was good!

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  2. Absolutely beautifully written and touches each and every one of us, no matter what religion we were raised in.If we break free of the dogma [my Sabbath is THIS day and your Sabbath is THAT day, and you eat this and I eat that” etc], we leave ourselves wide open to recognise, acknowledge and appreciate our sameness as we travel on our journey on this magnificent planet Earth, and give thanks for its wonder and glory, and for being blessed with life.

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