In the Wake of Charles Brandt, a Wellspring in Our Hearts
~ the brandt series ~
A photo essay
“We are all fellow-passengers on this planet earth, and we are all of us dependent upon one another for the happiness and welfare of the world in which we happen to live.”
Charles Brandt, 1947
Charles Brandt in his early hermit days, mid 1960’s
IN THE WAKE OF CHARLES BRANDT
The Annual General Meeting of the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society was held in early November at the Brandt Hermitage. It began with a short commemoration of frater Charles Brandt who died October 25, 2020. Covid 19 protocols were in place. The twelve people participating included two nurses, two teachers, two community development workers, two carpenters, one medical doctor, one silviculturist, one geotechnical consultant and an Oblate Benedictine, Karen Nicol, who is the active contemplative resident at the hermitage.
All those present gathered on the grassy area overlooking Oyster River. Everyone chose a small rock to hold and then they formed a sharing circle. Willa Canon spoke of the symbolism of stone, its integrity and strength. Bruce Wood read a passage on walking meditation written by Charles. Bruce Witzel welcomed everyone and thanked them for attending.
Each person then shared how they came to know of Charles and the affects his leadership had on them. George Wahl led the closing meditation. Karen Nicol called attention to a bald eagle that flew over our sharing circle, as in giving a blessing.
Bruce Witzel photo
As everyone moved into the hermitage for the Annual General Meeting, the stones were placed into Charles’ small chapel. Afterwards these stones were returned to the outdoors of the hermitage forest, near the wooden sculpture of St Benedict.
Karen Nicol photo
CONSTITUTION OF OUR SOCIETY
The purpose and vision of the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society is seeking to fulfill the wishes of Father Charles Brandt that the forest and house of the hermitage is to be preserved as a peaceful centre for contemplating the spiritual foundations of ecology and nature as a sacred commons, and as a home for a designated Catholic hermit or other contemplative person who shares this vision, and is dedicated to the environment and a life of contemplative prayer.
“The human community and the natural world must move forward into the future as a single sacred community, or we will perish in the desert. Only the sense of the sacred can save us.” – Fr. Thomas Berry
WELCOMING REMARKS FROM BRUCE WITZEL
As chairperson of the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society, I welcome you to the Merton House at the Brandt Hermitage and Forest.
It is clear each of us knows Charles Brandt in different ways. His diversity was profound.
Photo from the Tsolum River Restoration Society
Charles Brandt working at his book press
Charles in the hermitage library – photo by Bruce Witzel
For instance, Charles led the People of God in various church communities for most of seven decades – either as a humble monk or a faithful pastor.
Father Charles with a Comox Valley Parish, mid 1960’s (photographer unknown)
Bishops Gary Gordon and Remi De Roo with Charles and his nephew Gary McCue (b. witzel photo)
My word to you is “Only the sense of the sacred can save us.” – (from Charles Brandt Speaks)
And for those he gathered together in meditation groups and retreats, there was a deep contemplative fellowship linked to a profound ecological and universal consciousness.
At his hermitage Charles was a solitary hermit monk, and he freely acknowledged his loneliness at times.
Watercolour painting of Charles’ original hermitage building – artist G. Cunningham
With the environmental initiatives he helped realize like the Tsolum River Restoration, the Oyster River Enhancement and Friends of Strathcona Park, Charles was always reasoned, gentle and steadfast.
Oyster River Salmon Enhancement Facility under construction in the 1980’s – Charles Brandt photo
2017 British Columbia Community Achievement Awards
Oyster River – charles brandt photo
Pink salmon in the Oyster River – charles brandt photo
Sockeye Salmon during spawning season – charles brandt photo
As an expert birder and a wildlife conservationist, in his approach he was scientific and awed with reverence – both quantitatively and qualitatively, through his non dualistic manner of observing and being in the world.
House finch (female) – Charles Brandt photo
Redwing blackbird (female) – charles brandt photo
Trumpeter Swans – charles brandt photo
In the arts community and the cultural restoration and book binding world, as well as the paper conservation domains and the museums that Charles worked with he was not only known as a master, he was actually a genius.
Charles at Sybil Andrews memorial – photo from June 1993 Island Catholic News Article
Charles as director of the Mobile Conservation Lab – photo from Canadian Conservation Institute
Charles working in his conservation lab that was located in the hermitage – photo by Taylor Roades
With much of his life well lived in contemplation and prayer, Charles still found time to meld this with action. He became a loyal friend and a mentor who counselled people to open our hearts, minds and souls – to the earth and to each other.
Charles knew through deep experience that humanity belongs to the earth and that we are an integral part of the incredible web of life.
photo by Mac Witzel (Bruce’s dad, long-time friend of Charles)
He echoed Martin Luther King Jr. who boiled it down to this:
“All life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied into a single garment of destiny. What affects one directly, affects all – indirectly.”
Charles wants us to fully comprehend this reality which he knew as Sacramental Commons. Pope Francis calls it integral ecology in his teaching “Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home”.
Within this understanding Charles believed “we must think like a mountain”.
Mount Albert Edward – photo by Charles Brandt
Each earthly being (human and non-human alike) have distinct and individual patterns – for human earthlings, we have our will.
Thich Nhat Hanh gives an example. Although the lotus flower is different from the mud, it needs the mud. And the mud needs the lotus.
photo by Bruce Witzel
Although distinct, nothing is truly separate. Charles wanted us to embrace this insight.
And, to “pay attention”.
from a quote sent by Charles
Charles’ faith was broad and inclusive. His was the basic Christian tenet that we are all One Body with many differing parts – the rich and the poor, the suffering and the voiceless, and the whole earth that sustains all life. This reality is represented in all of the true spiritual and religious traditions throughout this blue-green planet.
Respecting this diversity we must come to communion with one another, Charles said, to form a single sacred community – or we will perish together, in the desert.
In gratitude for your caring love dear brother, frater Charles Brandt
from the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Forest – November 4, 2021
REFLECTION FROM CHARLES – A WELL SPRING IN OUR HEART
(excerpt from Self and Environment
It is early morning with its quiet and coolness. I walk out the old logging road to Catherwood Road. Catherwood is my connector to the outside world.
My hermitage is located deep in the temperate rainforest, on Oyster River, British Columbia. The logging road along with other trails through the forest is where I practice walking meditation.
Image by videographer Geoffrey Leighton
I do not think of the road as leading anywhere. It is the road to nowhere, the path on which I journey and have been journeying for a lifetime.
photo by Charles
When I walk this road I have no destination, no timetable or estimated time of arrival. I simply place one foot in front of the other, let all my cares, my anguish, angst, fears drop away. My breathing is in harmony with my pace, my pace is in harmony with the universe.
Image by videographer Geoffrey Leighton
And although this is the path of nowhere, in reality it is the path of everywhere, because it enables me to be in communion with the whole community of beings, beings which are diverse, interiorized, and each in communion with every other being in the universe.
I become present to the most distant star, and she to me, the ‘complicated web’ of interdependent relationships. Every atom of my being is present to every atom of the universe, and they to it.
photo compliments of Nasa – Death of a Star
We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.
Humanity is set on a path of exploration that will lead to the realization of the oneness of the human community and the earth community. When that begins to happen and when it does happen we will truly know the place for the first time.
We live in a dualistic, dysfunctional society that is intent on exploiting the natural world. We are in a crash situation, living between hope and despair. We have approached the bottom closely enough for us to begin to realize that we have to change.
Vancouver Island pulp mill in 1991 – bruce witzel photo
Smoke from Western North America forest fires of 2017 – bruce witzel photo
We sense that if we do not change, the human species could very well disappear.
Meditative Moment – photo by charles brandt
There is an attraction force present today beckoning us away from the pit of despair to the hope of a better world. A transformational process has begun that is leading us to a new age, the age of the earth.
Bleeding Heart – charles brandt photo
This transformation begins with the human heart, in the core of our spirit. We begin to detect a well springing up in our heart. Perhaps it is now only a trickle. But it will never run dry.
photo by Bruce Witzel
Sometimes it runs more clearly and evenly. At other times it seems to have gone completely underground. It is a life force that needs to be purified so that it will flow continuously.
It will lead to a transformation of our hearts and minds that will enable us to realize the unity of all beings and enable us to reach out with love to every creature in the universe.
Charles Brandt, from Self and Environment – 1997
Charles Brandt photos
Black Creek Estuary enters the Salish Sea
Recognizing the sacred in all
~ Seasons Greetings ~
Holly at the hermitage – charles brandt photo