Reflections by Jerry Webber

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Remembering Gene: One More Movement Inward and Outward

I woke up Tuesday morning stunned to learn that one of my very good friends did not wake up. Now two days later, I'm still in shock. And I'm not alone. I don't think any of Gene's family or many friends saw this coming. No one covered our blind-side on this one.

I have a lot to say about him, but I'll hold onto most of it. So many persons have their own angle, their own perception of Gene founded on unique relationships shared with him. What I might say represents only a one aspect of this person loved by so many of us. But I'll share a bit of my perspective, now added to all the others.

I experienced Gene as a gregarious and genuinely friendly person. I was with him in numerous settings through the years . . . times of prayer at local and far-away retreat facilities . . . mission endeavors and rebuilding/construction settings . . . monastery pilgrimages and out-of-town conferences. . . . We were in small groups together . . . he was regularly in classes I taught. . . .

Gene's two categories seemed to be "friends" and "those yet-to-be-friends." It was not uncommon to find him engaged in conversation with complete "strangers" (that is, "yet-to-be-friends") in out-of-the-way hotel lobbies or monastery lavender fields or on construction sites nailing 2x4's. I'm a high introvert, so I admired Gene's ability to flow naturally and with ease among people.

But there was another movement that Gene increasingly explored in recent years. He also had tapped into his soul's deep spiritual hunger. For all his love of people and conversation, he was growing a corresponding love for silence and the prayer of quiet. He had an expanding awareness of God and himself that may have surprised him. His attentiveness to God, self, others, and the created world provided him a reservoir from which to draw life. He found life in solitude and places of beauty. He was faithful to his centering prayer practice.

His love of silence and solitude, however, did not trump his love of people and companionship, but rather extended them and deepened them. In fact, he drew life and nourishment for prison ministry and mission trips and construction projects from his growing inner life, from the quiet times and spaces he sought regularly.

So what I want to say about Gene has to do with his life that moved intentionally inward, toward the Source of all that is . . . and then his life that moved intentionally outward, engaging the world in transforming ways in prisons and depressed city neighborhoods and on mission sites around the country.

Gene made a difference. And the difference he made arose from the way his heart continually was being shaped inwardly.

It's too easy to fall off on either side . . . to give ourselves either to an introspective inner life that dismisses the needs of the world . . . or to give ourselves in action and mission without any inner source to animate and propel our service in the world.

Gene was not perfect. We each live with our own peculiar tension, attempting to balance between attending to the inner life and then expressing ourselves in the outer world. But he was intentional with both movements. He knew the value of going in and out the gate. And more than giving lip service to either one, he invested his life in both his own soul-nurture and in the needs of the world.

I'm not eulogizing Gene in order to suggest that any of us need to be like him. Gene was finding his own way, as I have to find my own way . . . as each of us, ultimately, must find our own way.

But Gene's way was a delight to watch.

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