|St. Benedict's Monastery on Monte Cassino|
Saturday, July 11, 2015
SANDALS IN THE DESERT
Today, July 11, is the feast of St. Benedict. For many of us monks it's our anniversary of profession of vows. 1962 is, frankly, starting to seem like a while ago, but my life in the monastery has never seemed wearisome, boring or tiring. As I reflected on this in church this morning I thought of couple of passages in the Old testament that have always fascinated me. Both from the book of Deuteronomy, they’re retrospectives by Moses describing one special way in which God watched over the Israelites in the desert:
“I led you for forty years in the wilderness. Your clothes did not fall from you in tatters nor your sandals from your feet” (Dt 29:4).
“The Lord therefore let you be afflicted with hunger, and then fed you with manna, a food unknown to you and your ancestors, so you might know that it is not by bread alone that people live, but by all that comes forth from the mouth of the LORD.The clothing did not fall from you in tatters, nor did your feet swell these forty years” (Dt 8:3-4).
Having hiked quite a few miles over the years I’m always attracted by the idea that the Jews’ sandals never wore out, nor did their feet swell during those forty year of walking. What a great image!
I reflected on these passages this morning, realizing how they apply to me and to my monastic community as we’ve traveled together. The Israelites did it for only 40 years in the desert, while I’m now working on 53 in the monastery - and my sandals are still in good shape and my feet haven’t started swelling yet. Besides, who’s counting, right? (One rabbi commenting on the first passage suggested that the children's shoes and clothes grew as the children grew in size during those desert years, but this seems a like a lot for a modern family to pray for.)
Earlier in the week I was reading the Book of Exodus when suddenly I sat bolt upright in my chair, my eyes wide with wondering about this question: “What if God had suddenly stopped the daily supply of manna in the desert?” What a terrifying thought! What would they have done? There would have simply been no food available in the desert - they were totally dependent on the Lord. Suddenly all the psalm verses about God’s feeding them with manna in the desert took on a new life, and became powerful reminders of God’s goodness and faithfulness not just to the Israelites but also to me and my community. I wrote this little prayer in my journal:
“Lord, please don’t stop that manna! Help me to both recognize and appreciate your bread when it comes from heaven into my life and the life of my community. Help us to rejoice in your help and not complain about it in any way. Help us to be nourished and sustained by it on our journey toward you and your kingdom. Amen."
Happy St. Benedict’s Day!