Common Sense

By Melodious Monk

This morning I was reading about Saint Pio of Pietrelcina, a 20th century Italian priest from a farming town in southern Italy, more well known as Padre Pio. He gave this advice: “Whatever can I say in order to stop the multitude of your thoughts? Don’t try, excessively, to heal your heart, as your efforts would only make it more infirm. Don’t make too great an effort to overcome your temptations, as this violence would only make them stronger. Despise them and don’t dwell on them too much.”

I smiled while reading this, as it reminded me of conversations I frequently have with one of the long standing brothers at our community. He often tells me to try not thinking so much. Because put simply, “How do you expect to hear God’s voice with so many thoughts and voices of your own to drown His out? It’s just common sense!”

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Lessons From Chipper

By Melodious Monk 

If we are open to it, God can use anything to speak to us. A couple of years ago the brothers got a small black and white bulldog-bull terrier mix from a dog shelter in New Jersey. He was a rescue dog that needed a home, and we where lucky enough to get him before he was euthanized. Chipper, among many attributes, is unwavering in his desire to play! Whether it is tug-of-war, catching Frisbees, wrestling, or just being with someone, if Chipper isn’t asleep, then he’s eager to find you. This attitude is due in part to his gratitude to have a home, to have someone who has “saved” him. I know that Jesus has saved me from much in my life – but I forget this so quickly. When a circumstance goes against how I’d like it, seemingly spinning out of control, I feel angry and afraid. I feel like God has left me and I want to run. I’ve forgotten who feeds me and who has the power to save me. I stop looking to be with, to “play” with, to learn from, and to be fed by my master. Chipper, on the other hand, is even more grateful to see me, even if I’m a little late to feed him dinner, or for our normal time to go for a walk. In fact, he’s even more grateful that I finally did come!  And so is God with us – ever ready.

chipper

Ask and Seek

By Melodious Monk

“The worst temptation, and that to which many monks succumb early in their lives, and by which they remain defeated, is simply to give up asking and seeking. To leave everything to the superiors in this life, and to God in the next—a hope which may in fact be nothing but a veiled despair, a refusal to live.”

This past week I’ve been mulling over this quote from Thomas Merton. I’ve often thought of Jesus’ well-known direction, to “ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you,” as a loving invitation more then a command to stay living in Christ. It’s certainly both, but I don’t regularly think of “asking and seeking” as a very active way to fight daily temptation. Seeking truth can be a challenge, causing turmoil internally that feels safer to avoid. Merton is right in his challenge to us. When we stop the active life-giving task of seeking and asking God to show us his face in all that confronts us each day, we are the poorer for it.  In doing so, we risk not being able to see all the doors that God would like to open for us.

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Questions

by Melodius Monk    

I would like to beg you….as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a foreign language. Don’t search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday, far into the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.

I read this letter by Rainer Maria Rilke and it reminded me of one of the founders of our Community, Mother Cay Anderson. I was only 6 when Mother Cay died, so what I know of her is mostly through other people’s stories.

Sometimes I’m discouraged in my walk as a young Christian, feeling like I still wrestle with many of the same questions, doubts, and unbelief that I had when I first became a Christian. When I feel this way, a Brother likes to remind me of a saying that he had been taught by Mother Cay. She would encourage him by saying “it takes a lifetime to come into Christ.”

I find the combination of these two ideas comforting. Rilke’s notion of living your heart’s questions now, and Mother Cay’s encouragement to not be too impatient with yourself.

Each of our lifetimes is vastly unique, but I dare say that each phase of our lives is equally necessary, the good times as well as the difficult times. Hopefully in the end, each question we wrestle with will come together to make the whole person we are becoming.

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Gardening

by Melodius Monk      

Let’s start by disclosing this fact; I am not a gardener, at least not yet. One of the most common questions I’m asked by quests when giving them a tour of our monastery is “what does a religious brother do all day?” To which I smile, and say. “Well, it depends on the day and what I’m asked to do!” And while some parts of my day fall into a fairly routine schedule (like meals, choir rehearsal and liturgies), much of a day’s work depends on the needs of that particular day. I end up doing a wide variety of things, and often new things to which I may know little about.

This week I was asked to take care of the vegetable garden for a brother who was going to be away, to which I replied, “you realize I know almost nothing about plants” and was told, “I know, you’ll be fine, just ask for help if you need it!”

I didn’t say much initially, but this type of job sets off all kinds of panic inside my proud-self that is scared of trying new things and “messing up.” For example, tomorrow I need to plant some new cabbage, and I’m nervous. (I don’t think I’ve planted a seed since a 2nd grade science project, and there’s a lot of variables in soil, the weather, amount of sun, possible diseases etc.!!)  I got some tips from a gardening friend, and the directions are pretty clear on the seed package, but I still think it will take a miracle for any plants to come from these tiny little seeds.

However, if I look past the nerves inside that make me want to quit the job before having any chance of messing it up, there’s also inside of me some excitement at this new mini-adventure and some child-like amazement that these tiny specs will grow into something edible. Maybe this is a fitting job for God to help me loosen up a bit, to have to trust others, and to look to Him for guidance.

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Faults

by Melodius Monk   

Anyone who knows me, knows I hate being wrong. I want to run from it and the humiliation I feel as quickly and as permanently as possible. This weekend a friend pointed out a job I didn’t do as I had been asked. Oops. It turns out I was wrong.
 
The next morning, still struggling with my embarrassment, but ready to give it another try, I stumbled on a book while waiting for the coffee to brew. I randomly opened it hoping to occupy my sleepy brain with something. I opened to a chapter called Dealing with our Faults. I read:
 
“We must be neither amazed or disheartened (at our faults). We are not more wicked than we were. We are really less so, but while our evil diminishes, our light increases, and we are struck with painful dismay at its extent. We must not be discouraged either …discouragement is not the fruit of humility, but of pride. Nothing can be worse. Suppose we have stumbled, or even fallen. Let us rise and run again. All our falls are useful if they strip us of a disastrous confidence in ourselves, while they do not take away a humble and saving trust in God”    – Francois Fenelon
 
Maybe it was a good day after all.
 
Leopard,_Kruger_National_Park

Simple Choices

by Melodius Monk  

One of the hallmarks of the Benedictine life is Obedience. I guess for all followers of Jesus, as we try to live his instruction to “come, follow me,” obedience is a part of life. Obedience is a fresh daily choice, even for those of us that have taken life-long vows of obedience to in a monastic community.

I’m not talking about life-altering choices.  It’s often the little things. Did I take the time to go back to a friend I was upset with and get resolved? Did I give my best effort at my afternoon work assignment, even though I didn’t like the job? Did I prefer my brother, or my co-worker’s request for help, over my busy “to-do” list? Did I forgive that annoying person that hurt my feelings this afternoon?
 
Many times I choose not to do these things, sometimes unaware of the choice I’m making, sometimes aware.  Yet even if I make a wrong choice, in the struggle for obedience my faith grows. I learn a little more about Jesus, about how simple and freeing his obedience can be, all the while still wrestling daily with how tough these simple choices can feel.

Late Have I Loved You

by Artist Eye  

 ‘A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.’

I love the opening lines of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Journey of the Magi.” Eliot adapted these lines from a sermon preached by Lancelot Andrewes on Christmas Day in 1622. The English prelate was preaching on the verses of Matthew’s Gospel which report the inquiry made by the Wise Men from the East: “Where is He who is born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and are come to worship Him.” Andrewes was exhorting his listeners to emulate the Wise Men’s example: “Their errand our errand, and the errand of this day.” He goes on to describe the Wise Men’s faith and the extremity of the journey which that faith prompted them to make: “This was nothing pleasant. . . .This was no summer progress. . . .” I love to read Eliot’s poem in Advent. The poem’s imagery gives me the feeling of the journey in my bones which seems entirely appropriate to the season and the work of getting ready interiorly.

The other day when I heard about the work going on to make a new life size Creche for our front lawn I thought again about the Wise Men’s journey. It turns out we will have to wait another year for their appearance in our Creche ( ‘such a long journey’ ) but in the meanwhile, the Brothers have been hard at work, loving crafting the other figures; each one full of grace and elaborate detail. A joyous cast of shepherds and the sheep will lend us their examples as they rush across the lawn to fall and worship at the Crib; exhorting us to come and do like wise.

Vineyards

by Melodius Monk

Every October grape harvesting happens at the friary. A familiar smell fills the basement as the grapes are carried in, stomped, then processed to make our wine for Communion. Much work has gone into growing the grapes. In fact, a whole year’s work of pruning, fertilizing, spraying, suckering, watering, netting, and other tasks which culminate in a few days of picking and processing the fruit! Bad weather these last weeks, greedy birds, or a slip-up from a novice vineyard assistant are a few ways to ruin a year’s hard work. 

After helping harvest our grapes this week, I started thinking that this wine-making venture is similar to following God. There’s no good wine without risk and hard work. But there’s also a large element of trust: trust in the weather — something way out of our control. Throughout my life I’ve had many examples of God’s blessing and watch-care over me. Still, I’m not certain that a new venture I am starting today will be okay, especially a whole year from now. I worry about the risk, the uncertainties, the necessary work. So, like the process of growing grapes, I ask for the grace to trust Him who does have it all in control.

“Pick me up and throw me into the sea”

by Melodius Monk                  
 
Standing at Eucharist this morning, my mind drifted away from the reading of the book of   1st Kings. It landed on an argument I’d had last night with another brother that still wasn’t resolved. Thinking about it made me feel upset all over again. The memory brought back the same anger and hurt feelings, and reminded me of the mean words I had thrown out my mouth at him. My defense theory was building well when this image of Jonah caught my eye.
 
I’d never seen it as such an active move on Jonah’s part. Emotionally, I was not ready to jump back into the stormy sea, even if this is what God wanted. But, like Jonah, sometimes it takes a very bold and active choice to calm the waters inside.