Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bridge to the past

One evening this past week, for some reason, the topic of covered bridges came up among a small group of monks during our after-dinner recreation period. Someone mentioned that there is a historic covered bridge not too far from St. Meinrad. I recalled having seen a highway marker along Indiana 545 south of St. Meinrad between New Boston and Fulda (on the way to Troy along the Ohio River) announcing "Historic Covered Bridge," but I had never ventured off the highway to take a look (I don't get out a lot, you know).

As it happens, the following evening I was headed to Tell City (just beyond Troy along the river) for an oblate conference, so I decided to leave a little early and get a look, finally making the turn east off of Indiana 545 onto Huffman Mill Road, which I followed several miles until coming to the bridge over the Anderson River. As you can see from the photos I took, it is a beautiful rural area, with much of the fall color just on the verge of fully appearing (still a bit green, though).

Later, I did a little online sleuthing, and discovered this nifty little article (click here for PDF file) from the Indiana Historical Bureau about the history of covered bridges in Indiana. According to the article (originally published in 1998), there are 93 covered bridges in Indiana (down from 202 in 1930). The Huffman Mill bridge, which was built in 1864 (during the Civil War!) is the only remaining covered bridge in this area of the state (the 150-foot-long bridge connects Spencer and Perry counties). It is listed on the National Register of Historical Places.

One interesting historical footnote (gleaned elsewhere, though I forget exactly where): the Huffman Mill at one time was located near where the bridge was later constructed, and it was to this mill that young Abraham Lincoln and his father Thomas would bring grain from their farm to be ground. Lincoln grew up in this area (near what is now Santa Claus, Indiana), from the age of 7 until he turned 21 and left for Illinois to begin his law and political careers. (By the way, there is a national park on the site of the former Lincoln homestead, which is not all that far from St. Meinrad. You can visit the park's website here. A Lincoln fan since I was a young boy, I have visited the park several times since coming to St. Meinrad).

The bridge--constructed of yellow poplar according to the Burr-Arch Truss design--is no longer open to traffic. It was replaced by a more modern bridge in 2004 (they are located side by side, as you can see in one the photo below). Incidentally, during our conversation the other evening, the question was asked why such bridges were built with coverings (the article cited above states that perhaps 10,000 covered bridges were built throughout the United States between 1805 and 1885). One monk opined that it was to provide shelter from the elements for passing travelers and their horses. However, according to the Indiana Historical Bureau article, the primary reason for the coverings were to protect the floorboard timbers from rot due to the elements (that certainly makes sense). The article also mentions that such bridges were "often the largest covered area in a community and were sometimes used for revival meetings, weddings, and political rallies.

These days, of course, with our modern transportation and highways, we travel much more frequently and for much longer distances than those who lived during the 19th Century in small communities like Huffman Mill. And we usually do so at top speed, often bypassing little roadside gems like this one, which provide a glimpse of our heritage. I'm glad I stepped off the beaten path for a little while.

The old and the new (just to the right).

Some of the roof support beam handiwork.

The Anderson River, seen through a small opening in the side of the bridge.

The surrounding scenery.

Thursday, October 16, 2014


"You and I must be what we ought to be;
then we shall have cured what concerns ourselves.
Let everyone do the same, and all shall be well.
The trouble is that we all talk
of reforming others without reforming ourselves."

St. Peter of Alcantara

Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Lord, let me seek you
in my desire;
let me desire you
in my seeking.
Let me find you
by loving you;
let me love you
when I find you.

--St. Anselm

Friday, September 19, 2014

Hello, again

Every once in a while, an acquaintance either tells me or emails me: "You must be busy, because you haven't posted anything on your blog for a while."

Well, no one has said that lately, but I recently realized that I have not, indeed, posted much of anything here in quite some time. Such is life. If I were able, I would try to post something fresh (and, hopefully, something prayerful or thought-provoking) nearly every day. Perhaps I can attempt to make more progress in that regard.

In the meantime, however, I thought I would provide an update of what I've doing lately, as well as a preview of a "coming attraction" (hinted at in the photo above).

I've been spending a good deal of time lately reading and writing in connection with the courses I'm taking as part of the spiritual direction certificate program I've involved in here at Saint Meinrad. I'm quickly approaching the last year of the three-year program. One course, Spiritual Direction and Discernment, began in July and runs until early December. (Courses already completed have covered Scripture, the history of Christian spirituality, and human development and Christian maturity) In January, the other members of the program cohort (there are about a dozen of us) and I will begin a Pre-Practicum course--which will be followed by a full year of engaging in supervision and self-evaluation of interaction with directees, which in turn will be followed up with a Post-Practicum course before the certificate is awarded.

It has been a very rewarding program (the other cohort members and I are the "guinea pigs" of this inaugural endeavor), and I have learned a lot. I also learn a lot from those I am currently directing, and I am grateful for their trust in this "novice." Being a spiritual director (not to mention a writer) after the pattern of my patron namesake, St. Francis de Sales, is something I feel deeply called toward, and is something I genuinely enjoy doing.

In any event, the current course I'm enrolled in, as well as preparations for the pre-practicum course, are keeping me quite busy. Along with quite a bit of reading, there are short papers and reflections to write, and required online discussions to engage in with other cohort members--all of which has been very fruitful. Together, it amounts to the equivalent of essentially two simultaneous classes.

In addition, I'm involved with the Benedictine oblate program here at Saint Meinrad, and in recent weeks, I've been preparing the conference I will be giving at oblate chapters throughout Indiana and Ohio in the coming months. My conference--guided by this year's overall theme of the "Presence of God in the Life of the Oblate," which is chosen by the oblate director--is titled "Being with God in Prayer."

And, of course, I continue to work in the Publications division of the Abbey Press. In addition to the normal round of proofing catalogs, editing manuscripts, and attending staff meetings, I have been particularly focused on shepherding the development of a new gift-book series called "Focus on Faith" (to be released in December). Each 84-page, full-color book in the series will focus on a different aspect of one's Christian faith, providing an insightful, inspiring, and attractive presentation of the topic at hand. Each book in the series is designed to be a prayerful guide to empowering one's faith--putting it to work in day-to-day circumstances, and is filled with short meditations, colorful photographs and illustrations, inspirational quotes, and reflection questions.

There will be four books released in December to begin the series, dealing with the topics of patience, envy, doubt, and worry. I have authored the one on worry, tentatively titled Why Do I Worry? (the photo above is one version of the cover). Everything has been written, edited, and designed, and is currently in the pre-press phase (lots of proofing and fine-tuning!). This has been a unique project in many respects, and has involved a number of people here at the Press. It will be interesting to see how the series fares.

So, that is what I've been up to of late. I'm especially looking forward to the practicum phase of the spiritual direction program. Hopefully, I'll have the opportunity to do a little more writing as well. For now, here is the introduction to the upcoming "Focus on Faith" book Why Do I Worry?:

Don’t worry. We’ve all said that to someone, or have had someone else say it to us. Yet, worrying is something everyone does to some degree. We worry about our jobs or studies, finances, health and safety, and relationships. We worry about what’s happened in the past, and what may happen in the future. We worry about the state of today’s world.

And those are just the “biggies”—we worry about many other things as well.

As real as our worries seem, we know, deep down, that worrying is pointless.  It solves nothing, and often leads to potentially more serious problems—like sleeplessness, irritability, lack of concentration, arguments, substance abuse, etc. A recent British study found that the average Briton spends one hour and 46 minutes each day worrying about such things as being out of shape, aging, and finances—amounting to five years and two months of solid worrying over the course of the average lifetime! What’s more, high percentages of those studied said their worrying (not what they were worried about) directly affected their health, job performance, and relationships.

Gerontologist Karl A. Pillemer, Ph.D, a professor of human development at Cornell University who has researched and written extensively on aging issues, asked hundreds of senior citizens what they most regretted about their lives. He was surprised by the recurrent answer: “I wish I hadn’t spent so much of my life worrying.” He concludes: “Their advice on this issue is devastatingly simple and direct: Worry is an enormous waste of your precious and limited lifetime. They suggested training yourself to reduce or eliminate worrying as the single most positive step you can make toward greater happiness.”

Hopefully, this book will help you do that from the perspective of our Christian faith. Let us follow Jesus, the Light of the world (cf. John 8:12; 9:5), who says to us all: “Do not worry about your life” (Matthew 6:25; Luke 12:22). “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me” (John 14:1).

Br. Francis Wagner, O.S.B.
Why Do I Worry?
©2014 Abbey Press Publications

Sunday, August 31, 2014

True desire

"What we love
indicates the sort
of people we are,
and therefore
making a decision
about this should
be our one concern
in choosing
a way of life."

--St. Augustine

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


"May my teaching drop like the rain,
my speech condense like the dew."
Deuteronomy 32:2

No, it's not manna.

After all, nowadays we have the Eucharist (cf. John 6:27-51).

Not manna, but spiders! Or, more specifically, spider webs. Hundreds of them.

This was the scene around the Archabbey early this morning after Vigils. It has been rather moist around here of late. We had some good, soaking rains over the weekend, and since then it's been quite humid. Last night, the moisture built up in a big way and left the Hill and surrounding area enveloped in heavy fog and mist. The dew was left clinging heavily to anything at ground level, exposing the spiders' intricate handiwork.

Those webs are always there, of course. We just rarely see them unless something like heavy dew brings them to light. It left me contemplating how often we pass by an untold number of such wonders each day without noticing. Truly, grace builds on nature -- if we're willing to let it permeate below the surface of things.

Friday, August 8, 2014

The narrow way

"Clothed with faith and the performance of good works,
let us set out on this way, with the Gospel for our guide."

of St. Benedict, Prologue 21

Congratulations are in order for Br. André DeDecker (formerly known as Novice Dane), who professed his temporary vows on Wednesday this week. In addition, the monastic community of Saint Meinrad Archabbey welcomes two novices who were invested on Tuesday with the monastic scapular -- John Avery II and Charles Peñalosa.

Through the intercession of Our Lady of Einsiedeln, our Holy Father St. Benedict, and St. Meinrad, may God confirm and strengthen all three in their discernment of the monastic way of life.

The monastery is expecting a few additional candidates to arrive this fall. Keep praying for vocations to this house!