Saturday, June 18, 2016
I’m away visiting family for the next ten days, so rather than spending the time blogging, I’m going to share a preview chapter of what I hope will be my next book, reflections on the mass readings for each of the 50 days of the Easter season. I hope you enjoy this meditation.
The Cloister Garden: Wednesday of the 7th Week of Easter.
“They do not belong to the world, any more than I belong to the world. I do not ask you to take them out of the world, but to guard them from the evil one.”
I am sitting on a bench in the cloister garden; although it is the evening rush hour, the loudest sound is the quiet chirping of a couple of birds. Our garden always seems to be insulated from the noisy busyness out on King Boulevard.
The incredibly brilliant blue sky, the gentle spring breeze that is rustling the roses and black-eyed susans, and the familiar, cheerful four-note song of the wind chimes in the maple nearby all combine to help me sense God’s presence.
I close my eyes and try to let the gentle music and the peacefulness of the place sink into my bones. As I feel the cool breeze on my face, hear the gentle tinkling of the wind chimes and the rustling of the leaves, and smell the rich aroma of freshly-turned soil, I remember a definition of contemplation that I once heard: “Contemplation is a long, loving look at the real.” That definition, I say to myself, could have been inspired by someone in a garden like this one, on a spring afternoon as beautiful as this. Sitting in the garden helps to take a long, loving look at one aspect of “the real,” inviting me to appreciate the world’s beauty, and hear the Lord speaking through the voice of creation.
With my eyes still closed, I reflect that at the Last Supper Jesus did not pray that his followers might be taken “out of the world,” but rather that they not be “of the world” or “belong to the world.” We monks try to stay always mindful of that distinction -- we are careful not to be “of the world,” or, as Jesus put it “belong to the world,” but we are most certainly “in the world.”
I open my eyes and see the evidence of our being in the world: the buildings that house our elementary school and our high school. Educating young people is our major way of being in the world, of loving it, and of cooperating in God’s ongoing work of creation.
As I listen to the soothing song of the wind chimes, and gaze at the bed of bright yellow asters, I hear a little child’s voice -- probably belonging to one of the children from our elementary school talking to her parent who has come to pick her up at after-school care. I close my eyes again, and begin to pray for mothers and fathers who have to fight traffic every day after work to pick up their children. Their road to holiness seems a lot harder than mine.
If holiness consists, as someone once told me,in simply being where God wants you to be and doing what God wants you to do, then parents, I reflect, become holy and find God precisely by being “in the world.” A young father juggling two jobs and coaching his daughter’s soccer team meets God at work, in a vanload of noisy kids, and wherever else his vocation calls him to be, and a mother stopping by the cleaner’s on the way home from work while she plans supper in her head is walking her particular path to holiness.
I reflect, too, that those mothers and fathers have a much more difficult challenge than I do to avoid temptations to “belong to the world.” Parents can easily get caught up in worrying about their house, their car, and paying the bills. In addition, the unavoidable busyness that comes along with raising a young child seldom affords them the leisure to reflect on the fact that all all of their daily duties, all of these ways of showing love for their spouse and their children, constitute their way to holiness.
Although I spend hours daily “in the world” teaching school, I also join my brothers in church four times every day for mass and the Liturgy of the Hours, where we sing God’s praises in psalms and songs, consciously lifting up all of creation in prayer. In addition, I spend time alone in quiet meditation and sacred reading early every morning and again each evening. These regular times of prayer and reflection, carefully balanced with work, make it much easier for me to be “in the world” without being “of the world.”
A single bell rings out from the church tower, calling the monks to supper. As I open my eyes and stand up, reluctantly ending my long, loving look at the garden, I pray for all parents, whose daily path to holiness leads through the busy world of children’s soccer practices, grocery shopping, and commuting in hectic rush hour traffic. I ask the Lord to help them to walk in the world in such a way that the world becomes their road to holiness.
Following the slates that form a path across the garden, I walk slowly toward the door to the monastery, my path to holiness.