Name: Father Brad Karelius
Where I live: Laguna Niguel, Orange County, California
Vocation: Associate Professor of World Religions at Saddleback Community College, Mission Viejo, California since 1973; Episcopal Priest in the Diocese of Los Angeles since 1970. Recently retired as rector of Messiah Parish in the Logan Barrio of Santa Ana, California after 30 years. The parish is located in the city with the highest percentage of native Spanish speakers in USA. One-third of parishioners are very low income Latino, many are undocumented. Most live in very dense housing situations, e.g. in a three-bedroom apartment there can be three families. The parish has almost 70 persons with doctoral degrees. On the one hand: highly educated and affluent; on the other hand, many with less than elementary school education. The parish founded an afterschool tutoring center, the Noah Project (more than 50% of youth in area do not get past 9th grade) two high quality early childhood education programs for the poorest families in Santa Ana (Hands Together—a Center for Children), and a program for homeless mothers and children (Morning Garden).
Your two favorite books: The Desert Padre: the Life of Father John Crowley (in 1920’s and 30’s he was the priest with a circuit to all the little desert towns near Mt. Whitney and Death Valley); Land of Little Rain, by Mary Austin, the seminal work of a famous writer on the desert and Native Americans.
Your two favorite songs: “Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys” (Willie Nelson); Ave Verum Corpus (Mozart)
Why are you interested in spirituality: I like Ron Rolheiser’s definition of spirituality as “the fire that burns within us.” Our deepest longings. Although I had been a parish priest for many years, the awareness of my deep longing for connection with God became most acute during the health crises of our son Erik, who was stricken with encephalitis in 1987. Our life was forever changed that day and Erik has been through a lot of suffering. Today he is mentally a four-year old inside a 27-year old body with chronic seizure disorder. In 1990 I began working with a spiritual director on the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. This involved daily meditation with scripture, weekly meetings with my director over 12 months. In the process I encountered my faith in God and scripture in a new way as I also began to deal with addictive behaviors and expressing more honesty and transparency in my life, both with God and my friends. I began to take five day retreats in the California desert during Advent and Lent. In the desert, the place where most world religions have been birthed or nurtured, I experienced the Holy in a deeply personal way, enfolded in love and grace. Spirituality for me means renewing a daily connection with God and the Holy.
I wrote a book, The Spirit in the Desert: Pilgrimages to Sacred Sites in the Owens Valley, as a result of these retreats. I share an honest narrative of the twists and turns of my life, the movements away from and toward God, and our family’s struggles to care for Erik. The book is an invitation to other spiritual seekers to contemplative encounters in the Owens Valley near Mount Whitney, California. I guide the reader to eleven Euro American and Native American sites and connect the landscape to the history of the people who lived there. All the sites provide solitude for reflection, but are not far from major highways.
In the process of sharing copies of the book with other writers on spirituality and sacred landscape I have made many wonderful connections.
I am now finishing the Spirit in the Desert II: Encounters with the World’s Religions on Highway 395 in the Owens Valley. I apply some of my reflections on world religions over 30+ years of college teaching, as I indentify very-little known sites of the different world spiritualities: a new Cambodian Buddhist Temple emerging out of sagebrush emptiness; a hidden Hindu ashram in a pine forest at the foot of Mt. Whitney; echoes of Mohammed’s encounter with Allah in a cave/mine shaft in the Inyo Mountains; encounters with Shinto spirits at the Manzanar World War II relocation camp; and meditations with Lao Tzu beside a mountain stream in Cottonwood Canyon.
Your favorite quote: “Spirituality is more about whether or not we can sleep at night than about whether or not we go to church” (Ron Rolheiser, the Holy Longing)
Your favorite websites: www.pluralism.org (terrific resource for the study/experience of the world’s religions through Harvard Univesity); www.ronrolheiser.com (Roman Catholic monk’s weekly meditation which is both mystical and inclusive of the world’s spiritualities).
Your hero: our son Erik: he has suffered so much, but continues to radiate and reflect the love that has been given to him; he continues to instruct me in how to live gratefully in the Present Moment.
A spiritual lesson you hope to learn: to live in this present moment with a heart that is grateful to God.
A place in the world where you feel spiritually “connected”: the Desert (in fall-winter or spring), especially the desert spaces of the Owens Valley near Mt. Whitney, California, the ancient palm desert oasis near Palm Springs and the Mojave Desert.
Brad’s book can be found here: http://www.amazon.com/Spirit-Desert-Pilgrimages-Sacred-Valley/dp/1439217211/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1330103683&sr=8-1