Saturday, March 3, 2012



Tuesday I went for a walk. As I turned onto William Street alongside our abbey church I spotted six blocks down the hill several bales of hay neatly stacked on the sidewalk at the corner of Broad Street.
Now, bales of hay are not exactly your everyday sight in downtown Newark, but I knew right away what they meant: The circus is in town!
Each year the Ringling Brothers circus descends on the Prudential Center. Beginning a couple of days before the first performance the streets around the Prudential Center are filled with colorful circus wagons, trailers, and trucks, and a large parking lot boasts a couple of low sprawling tents and wooden pallets stacked with bales of hay. Then the day after the last performance the circus moves on and the streets suddenly return to their normal everyday humdrum appearance.
As I strolled past the trailers with license plates from Florida and Indiana and elsewhere, I stole a peek at a couple of young women in jeans and pony tails working by the tents. They seemed to be regulars for whom this business was routine. I wondered if they’d run away from home to join the circus…
I began to wonder, too, what it must be like for them to live “on the road” for several months a year, pulling up stakes (literally) every few days and moving on to somewhere new. I’d hate that, I thought, always being on the move, never settling down, a sort of perpetual pilgrim.
I’ve since walked by the circus wagons a few more times, and each time some other thoughts cross my mind. Here are a couple.


Each year the circus passes through during Lent. Its transitory visit seems well-timed to remind us of the Israelites who lived in tents for forty years as they moved from place to place crossing the wilderness. They’d camp for awhile in one place until the pillar of cloud started to move again and they would have to break camp and follow where it led.
The Church is like that: The Pilgrim Church is always on the road, never settling down on our way through the wilderness of this life. And like circus people we don’t travel alone but together as a group, a community.


The trailers and tents made me realize how much I enjoy the sense of permanence, predictability and security provided by the monastery and my Benedictine vow of Stability. Woops! That’s not a very Lent-like thought! Lent is a time for living on the road. These forty days are meant precisely as desert days, a time for traveling together through the desert, for pulling up the stakes of old habits and deadening routine, for daring to follow the pillar of cloud into new and even frightening places.
As I walk past the circus trailers I can hear the Lord of the Wilderness saying, “I love you too much to let you settle down and stay where you are. Come, follow me across the trackless waste.”


I look at the circus wagons differently now. They’ve become reminders challenging me to let go of the secure predictability of my comfortable existence and accept the Lord’s challenge to enter the wilderness and travel with my brothers and sisters as we follow trustingly the Lord who promises to bring us to the Promised Land.
The circus finishes tomorrow and moves on to another place. When I walk down the hill on Monday afternoon the only trace of the circus will be a few stray wisps of yellow straw blowing along the gutter. But I’ll still be here trying to be a perpetual pilgrim with my brothers in Newark Abbey. We’re on the road, too.

No comments:

Post a Comment