Wednesday, August 16, 2017

How It Works

Overheard this morning in the cloister. 
One young monk off to morning work, pauses to help a senior monk, 
who expresses thanks for his assistance. 
The younger whispers, "Teamwork makes the dream work."

They should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom 12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behavior, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show the pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear...   from Chapter 72 of The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Ahead of Time

Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled.” When I look at the various situations and circumstances of my life, the joys and sorrows, the ups and downs, the hopes and disappointments, the struggles and accomplishments, I realize that I really want to believe that the Lord is somehow present to me in and through them all. I really want to believe that the Lord speaks to me through all the events of my life. And I don’t think I am alone in this desire. My guess is that we all want to believe that our life and existence are somehow more than the particular circumstances that unfold throughout our lives. We want to know and experience that God is really with us through it all. We long for something beyond the particular circumstances. I’m talking about believing through the circumstances rather than in the circumstances. When we believe this way the circumstances no longer limit or confine us but become portals of God’s intimate presence with us.

The kind of believing I am talking about is an "Elizabeth and Mary kind of believing." Neither one of them should be or could be pregnant. One is too old. One is too young. One is barren. One is a virgin. Yet both are pregnant. Neither Elizabeth nor Mary allowed the particular concrete circumstances of her life to limit God’s presence and action in her life. Neither allowed the circumstances to define who she was or who she would become. Elizabeth believed she was more than just a barren, childless, old woman. And Mary refused to accept that she was a no-one, another unmarried, scandalous woman, but rather believed that somehow she was the instrument of God the Most Holy.

Mary didn’t have it all wrapped up right from the beginning with a crystal clear understanding as to how her life would unfold. I am sure that her “how can this be” question to the angel Gabriel was not the last time in her life that she asked that question. As her life unfolded it wasn’t a bed of roses for her. A sword would pierce her soul she was told when her son was an infant. She will lose him for three days when he is twelve. She’ll think he’s gone mad when he’s thirty. And God only knows the despairing anguish she experienced during those three days following his crucifixion. And yet, throughout all the circumstances of her life her “let it be” never ceased to resound. In fact, what we are celebrating today: Mary’s bodily Assumption into heaven was somehow contained in her original “let it be.”

In today’s gospel we hear Mary’s “let it be” continue to unfold in her Magnifcat; which is essentially her song of praise and thanksgiving. Barbra Brown Taylor, the Episcopalian priest, author and theologian offers a powerful insight into Mary’s Magnificat when she reflects on Mary’s willingness to trust in God as she writes: “All she has is her unreasonable willingness to believe that God who has chosen her will be part of whatever happens next---and that apparently is enough to make her burst into song. She does not wait to see how things will turn out first. She sings ahead of time.” That expression stopped me in my tracks. Praising God ahead of time. Thanking God ahead of time.

I remember when it dawned on me that in the Ignatian practice of the Examen of Consciousness which one is advised to make at the end of the day, it is recommended to review your day in thanksgiving. It is not a matter of reviewing the day in order to pick and choose what you will be grateful for but to look back on the day, all of it and everything that occurred, with an attitude of thanksgiving. And now here we have Mary singing ahead of time, expressing her gratitude for all that will unfold in her life- being grateful ahead of time.

The celebration of the Solemnity of the Assumption of Mary is not just concerned with Mary. It is meant to touch our lives, in all the magnificent and not so magnificent circumstances of those lives. Mary’s fulfillment, which we celebrate today, began in and through all the circumstances of her life. Today, on the Assumption, we celebrate and acknowledge the culmination of that fulfillment - a fulfillment that we are all meant to one day share in with her. She invites us today, personally, to trust in a way that isn’t limited to what is reasonable, explainable or even acceptable. To trust that in every moment of every circumstance of our life the word of God is really being fulfilled if we but offer our own “let it be.”

Orazio Gentileschi, The Virgin with the Sleeping Christ Child, c. 1610, The Fogg Art Museum. Excerpts from Father Damian's homily at this morning's Eucharist.

Monday, August 14, 2017

It Is I

As Father Aquinas reminded us yesterday, we are very often like the disciples. We too often seek reassurances from Jesus, "If it is truly you, tell me to come to you across the water." Our faith is not strong enough. Jesus encourages us, "Take heart; it is I. Have no fear." What could be more reassuring? Once we realize who is calling to us, we may be embarrassed at having been alarmed. Didn't we know? Jesus always assures us that he will save us and protect us.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Whispering

Having sensed the Lord’s loving presence in the “tiny, whispering” of the ordinariness of our lives, we long to hide in the “shadow of his wings.” He comes near to us, stretches out the hand of his mercy and assures us, “Come to me and do not be afraid.” Why do we doubt? Why is our faith so tiny? The Son of God Most High has made his dwelling place within us. And nothing at all can separate us from him.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Friday, August 11, 2017

God’s Beauty

We continue our reflection on the words of Rowan Williams. He concludes that in the monastic life "...the world can be seen at one and the same time in its wholeness and in the light of a presence that is everywhere and nowhere. And it points to worship as the culminating and fulfilling form of self-dispossession or self-giving. It is about joy in the routine and everyday – not simply a persistent human happiness but a pervasive confidence that God’s beauty is there waiting for our homecoming. It certainly is not that monastic communities unfailingly exemplify all this; only that this and this alone makes sense of the monastic life as a ‘sharpening of the focus’ that exists in all Christian life."

God's beauty awaits us, beckons us; let us be attentive always.

Photographs by Brother Brian.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Incarnational

The author Rowan Williams will characterize the monastic life as follows: “A humanity serving God in steady engagement with the material world and in mutual giving and receiving…a humanity shaped by Christ.”

He goes on to remind us that the monk’s life is "incarnational," always lived in and through Christ Jesus. As Williams writes, the monastic life is: “always modeled on Christ’s human life (and) open to the divine at every moment; it is not that God the Word deigns to take up residence in those parts of our lives that we consider important or successful or exceptional. Every aspect of Jesus’ humanity and every moment of his life is imbued with the divine identity, so that if our lives are to be images of his, they must seek the same kind of unbroken transparency.  Likewise, Jesus lives out in his humanity a complete dependence on God as Father, the eternal dependence of the Word on the divine Source, and is thus also capable of living a human life that is not anxiously in search of the highest degree of autonomy: he receives gifts, receives friendship and hospitality. A life that values every dimension of experience, including the routine, the repetitive and prosaic, one that assumes mutual need and invites generosity at the same time as offering it in hospitality – this is a life that is not merely apostolic but Christlike and illustrates the freshness of what the Gospel makes possible.”

Christ Jesus longs to be ordinary in us and with us and through us.
Photographs by Brother Brian.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Vigilance

Signaling the end of the summer, flocks of Canadian geese have already returned to rest and and feed in the Abbey fields on their way north. An ancient Roman legend tells of the Capitoline geese who honked their warning and saved Rome from the invasion of the Gauls. Since then geese have been used in literature and art as symbols of vigilance and divine providence. As we keep watch in vigils and prayer, the geese are our late August companions. Autumn is not far away.

Photograph by Brother Brian.