Photographs of geese in the Abbey fields by Charles O'Connor and Brother Brian.
John the Baptist had promised that Someone would come to reverse things - Someone who would baptize us with fire and water- wash us clean and even burn our sins away. At last, Someone who would restore our lost innocence. That Someone, that Fire is here among us. It is Christ Jesus our Lord. And we hear the echo of the Exsultet. It is after all, what we sing about at the Easter Vigil- ‘the power of this night restores lost innocence, humbles earthly pride.’ Easter night, when the wounded Savior rises in quiet majesty. Someone at last who understands us from the inside and knows our misery. Someone who looks into our hearts, and does not judge by appearances, Christ Jesus our Lord who through his dying and rising has reversed everything. For when God refuses to resist pain and suffering, everything gets turned upside down.
God’s reign has begun, the kingdom- not a neat and tidy world, but a world of messy dynamic beauty, beauty wrought out of struggle and pain. The very messy beauty of life when Jesus is preferred above all else, he who restores our lost innocence; not a facile, tawdry beauty but a terribly expensive beauty wrought out of acceptance of differences, reconciliation of opposites, the tension of the terrible truth of my holiness reconciled with my unremitting tendencies toward sin. The truth of who I am, the truth about the Body of Christ that we are together- differences, ambiguities, bad and good patiently, exquisitely juxtaposed, blended and accepted and made one in Christ. Our truth- neither monsters nor lambs but something better more beautiful wrought out of patient acceptance. What I want to eliminate in myself or in my brother now accepted in humility and with longing for Christ’s healing and peace. He who is our Beauty, our Hope, our innocence restored, He who has covered our sins, forgotten and forgiven them, Beauty Himself who is forever scarred and wounded, holes in his heart, hands, his feet, thorn scars on his brows. His cruel death has reconciled all that separated us from him from one another from our deepest most authentic selves. A very new beauty-filled reality - not a world of all or nothing, but a world of both and. The world, the kingdom where we are wounded and beautiful like Jesus, who has reconciled all things in himself making peace through the blood of his painful cross, the blood of his Fire.
Photograph by Brother Brian. Meditation by one of our monks.
In the monastery, we live in two worlds. All day long, we try to be efficient at work, whatever it is - cleaning, cooking, making jam or chasubles. But we know that all that efficiency is not going to be of much use when we go to pray. There we need a very different set of tools - we must be satisfied to be helpless, worthless, and inefficient; totally dependent on Christ’s kind favor, his gracious mercy and loving-kindness, ready to listen, and confident in our emptiness and uselessness. And this is work too, a very different kind of work - the discipline of being at home with the loss of control, at home with wonder and unknowing. It is in this lowest place, that contemplation can happen. Finally, perhaps, we are worthless enough in our own eyes to realize we have nothing to be proud of. This is our ultimate credential in a life dedicated to incessant prayer.
You gain nothing, you prevail nothing, O savage cruelty. His mortal frame is released from your devices, and, when Lawrence departs to heaven, you are vanquished. The flame of Christ's love could not be overcome by your flames, and the fire which burnt outside was less keen than that which blazed within. You but served the martyr in your rage, O persecutor: you but swelled the reward in adding to the pain. For what did your cunning devise, which did not redound to the conqueror's glory, when even the instruments of torture were counted as part of the triumph? Let us rejoice, then, dearly beloved, with spiritual joy, and make our boast over the happy end of this illustrious man in the Lord, Who is wonderful in His saints, in whom He has given us a support and an example…
St Lawrence, Limoges polychrome enamel plaque, late 16th century–early 17th century. The quotation from a sermon on Saint Lawrence by Saint Leo the Great.