Thursday, June 16, 2011

A forest of peace

http://www.forestofpeace.org/
Osage was founded by my friend, Sr Pascaline Coff, modeled after Shantivanam, the Christian ashram in India, established by Fathers Monchanin and Le Saux and carried forward by Father Bede Griffiths. Fr Bede christened Osage the 'Shantivanam of the West'. It is a located in a beautiful setting - acres of woods in rolling hills near Tulsa, Oklahoma.

I fear my only image of Oklahoma, before I visited, was forged by Steinbeck's 'The Grapes of Wrath': all flatland and dust bowl. This landscape, however, was a delight. You live in your own wood cabin and can walk out into trees and bluffs that look down at a distant, quiet Arkansas river, green-grey in the distance.

It has recently been reinvented as a lay community, after being a community of Benedictine Sisters, and I hope to visit in the autumn.

The central building is a combination of library, communal space, kitchen and wonderful chapel that on three sides is window opening out onto the forest. Within around the centrality of Christian sign are the symbols of the other major traditions, and the local one, that of the Osage Indians. It makes a space that is inclusive both of human search and of natural place. I have spent many hours encompassed in silence in this space and in shared communion.

It was a place that I had intended to spend my sabbatical (in 2001/2) but the fates intervened and I simply visited, as it happens in the week after 9/11. In that time of deep anxiety (and as it happens sadly forestalled introspection), it was good to be in a place that in its very architecture proclaimed a unity that recognized identity but refused boundaries.


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