Keep the Change

By Sr. Nun Other

Someone wants to trade a handful of change for a dollar bill. You say yes and he hands you 100 pennies. Or 4 quarters, 10 dimes, 20 nickels. Doesn’t really matter. Although the value is equal, it’s not the same and never will be. Maybe you loved that dollar bill. It was the first you ever made or a gift from your grandmother. You know it’s too late but you want it back. Now.

How do we reconcile the feelings that come with change? Especially when it’s an uninvited addition to our journey. I humbly offer some still-working-on thoughts: Step 1, admit you’ve lost something comfortable and familiar; Step 2, face that the present is now the past; Step 3, don’t pretend to like it; Step 4, accept its necessity and inevitability; Step 5, acknowledge God loves you and pray for an infusion of hope. Whatever your change is, it needs time to unfold and define itself. Be patient, be kind to yourself and others, and grateful to God for forward motion.

change

City of Glass

By Melodious Monk

I met a new friend this week, Welsh poet R. S. Thomas. While recently feeling a little lost and tired of looking for God with seemingly no answer back, I went to a shelf of poetry books in hopes that someone else’s words might open my eyes a bit differently.

Perhaps it was Paul Powis’ colorful illustration on the front cover of the R. S. Thomas collection that caught my attention, but every poem of R. S. Thomas that I read I find compelling, thought-provoking, and profoundly mysterious.

One such poem is titled, “the empty church. “ I spend a significant amount of time in an empty church here at the Community of Jesus– either cleaning, doing maintenance work, or praying alone–so, in quickly glancing through the index, this poem’s title leaped out at me as one to read.

The Empty Church

They laid this stone trap
for him, enticing him with candles,
as though he would come like some huge moth
out of the darkness to beat there.
Ah, he had burned himself
before in the human flame
and escaped, leaving the reason
torn. He will not come any more
to our lure. Why, then, do I kneel still
striking my prayers on a stone
heart? Is it in hope one
of them will ignite yet and throw
on its illumined walls the shadow
of someone greater than I can understand?

In the short time I’ve spent with this Anglican priest’s poetry, I have found a strong sense of the knowledge of God’s presence when, and perhaps especially when, He is not tangible to us. I often ask God why this road through life has so many components that often feel pointless or at cross-purposes with one another. I think Thomas might say that our inability to understand God in our lives is not something to be afraid of. At the end of his poem Emerging, Thomas reminds us that God has destined us for good.

There are questions we are the solution
to, others whose echoes we must expand
to contain. Circular as our way is,
it leads not back to that snake-haunted
garden, but onward to the tall city
of glass that is the laboratory of the spirit.

Poetry by R. S. Thomas. Artwork by Paul Powis

Purple Shade by Paul Powis

A Very Present Help

I have distinct memories of the morning, some forty-six years ago, when my father died. Every facet of that life-changing day is carved in heart and memory, and I expect always will be. Our family gathered in the waiting area outside intensive care, anxiously awaiting word. When the doctor arrived, my mother asked, “Is there any hope”? His kind (and wise) reply was, “We hope he’ll live forever.” For me, it was a moment of decision–insist on what was, or move forward with graceful acceptance. I give this as an example of the difference between hope and Hope: that is, the I want versus what God’s mercy ordains.

When viewed through the prism of hope, life is a shifting pattern of beautiful colors and images. Big picture Hope. The kind I can’t distort or negatively impact. It moves silently ahead, checking dark corners and clearing a path. You can lose your way, lose perspective, lose your wallet — lose any number of things — but my advice? Never lose Hope.

Rainbow

Vine Support

By Melodious Monk

I’m still very much a novice gardener and one plant I’m still scared of is the vaunted, precious, glorious gem of the summer crops – the vine ripened tomato! Perhaps I’m still haunted by the tomato plants that unexpectedly caught disease last summer and died before producing fruits, but I still find myself delicately reverencing the great tomatoes, afraid that too much action (pruning, fertilizer, or water) or not enough of the same will result in a failure to produce fruit at the end of the summer.

Tomato signOne particular tomato plant is teaching me a lesson this August. It’s a tall tomato plant at the front of staked row, one that has a stout 8 foot stake to climb, and, even with faithful succoring, it has grown well above this height. The stalk is a sturdy with a straight trunk, about an inch or more thick in places. After a recent heavy wind storm, a tall main branch was folded in half at about 4 feet above ground. I found it the next morning, nearly broken in half, collapsed to the ground. Instantly the anxiety began to rise, my fears were coming true: here we are in August and the entire growing season is going to be for naught! I was about to cut off the large sprawling branch, to throw in the brush pile and quickly hide the shame I was starting to feel of ruining this beautiful plant. I should have tied it up better, maybe added another stake, I’m thought to myself.

I assumed the branch had no chance of survival, since only a paper thin outer strand was keeping it connected to the rest of the plant. As I took hold of the branch and tugged, it remained surprisingly, but solidly, fixed on the main vine of the plant. I’d heard that as long as part of the branch is still connected to the main trunk, it’s possible for the branch to still get nutrients, to heal and keep living. With not much to lose, I figure why not try an experiment. I grabbed a flat 6 in piece of wood that was lying on the ground nearby and tied a splint along the stem. Surprisingly the branch held even with the twisting and bending to move it back upright, and with a few extra supports tied to the tomato-heavy top, the branch felt relatively secure. The next day it was still standing, still green, and a week later you’d never know it had been within a tinsel thread of its life.

“I am the Vine; you are the branches. Whoever lives in Me and I in him bears much (abundant) fruit. However, apart from Me [cut off from vital union with Me] you can do nothing.” In dark, doubt filled moments, we must remember that no matter what storm may cause us to fall off the vine, we always have the choice to reconnect even the smallest thread to the main vine, and continue on our path towards producing good fruit–and our healing.

Tomatoes

God is God

By Melodious Monk

God is God

…should we forget our Savior’s praise, the stones them-selves would sing!

As we finished the final stanza of James Montgomery’s hymn on Sunday, I turned to the person next to me to point out the humor and multiplicity of meanings to this last line. I was chuckling at the literal picture of a singing stone, and two other aspects as well: firstly, how it puts us in our place; and secondly, how it shows the bottomless depth’s of God’s love for us. Let me explain.

How quickly I forget that God is God. God loves us — but he doesn’t need us. I’m reminded of a conversation I had earlier this week were I was discussing how disappointed I feel with myself when I so often turn bitter and angry in certain situations. I fall again and again into the same trap of accusation and self-pity. It feels pathetic, and I assume God surely feels the same way about me. Or does he? A wise friend suggested to me that since God continually seems to be calling each of us to move  on with him, maybe He doesn’t care about my failings the same way I do.

Which brings me back to the stones. Why does God even bother to care for us? After all, he has the stones, or the ability to just create someone else who would be better at praising him! But God hasn’t given up on me, even though I give up on myself all the time – and I don’t know why, I just know he hasn’t. God calls us to life. The remembrances of Holy Week, especially, remind us of how much God wants each of us to live our lives to their fullest potential.

The Community of Jesus

 

Embracing Seasons

By Melodious Monk

Our Lord is a seasonal God: He comes, He departs. His faithfulness never changes, but his seasons do.  There are seasons when the tree is green, there are seasons when it is dry, and seasons when, for the life of us, the thing looks dead. Now, does this mean we are serving some capricious God who comes and goes by whim? Or could it be, that it is only through seasons that true growth may come?

Seasons of joy, seasons of sorrow, times when the Lord is so real it seems any activity you undertake is a spiritual experience. Seasons of dryness, when things are so bleak that even a plateful of Sinai sand would be considered a feast!

The day must come when every season is taken fairly much the same. That is, you can go forward regardless.  We are all very subject to seasons; yet those seasons are there to make us eventually seasonless. There is only one way you are ever going to learn to triumph over all seasons, and that is to go through each and every season…many times.

Gene Edwards, The Inward Journey

The Community of Jesus

 

Gems From A Little Red Book

By Melodious Monk

Tonight I was inspired to pick up my small copy of the Rule of St. Benedict. While looking for a 3-ring binder, this little red glossy cover buried in a stack of books caught my attention, so I placed it in my coat pocket for later reading. Just before bed, I remembered the little book.

Today was a difficult day for me. It was the type of day when nothing seemed to work out – at least on the surface. I found myself in several arguments, which eventually got settled, but left me somewhat disquieted.

So at the end of the day, opening the little red book, I was more than drawn into its words, surprised to discover that St. Benedict’s pen was addressing me directly.

Listen carefully, my son… this is advice from a father who loves you… First of all, every time you begin a good work… You must pray for him most earnestly to bring it to perfection… for the Scripture arouses us when they say: It is high time for us to arise from sleep. (Rom 13:11)… If you hear his voice today, do not harden your hearts (Ps 94:8) Come and listen to me and I will teach you the fear of the Lord (Ps 33:12) Keep your tongue free from vicious talk… Let peace be your peace and aim… Once you have done this, my eyes will be upon you and my ears will listen to your prayers.” (Isa 58.9)

(Excerpts from Prologue to Rule of St. Benedict. 1980. Edited Timothy Fry)

What a treasure of wisdom. If you haven’t read St. Benedict’s Rule, I recommend it.  It’s full of so many rich gems. There’s good reason why fifteen hundred years later so many people still follow his teachings.

The Community of Jesus

 

The Complexity of Love

By Sr. Nun Other

Christmas decorating is low on my list of favorite activities. Somewhere around a visit to the dentist. My expectations are so high, my desire to create beauty so intense, that I’m certain to disappoint myself. Last night, I placed, replaced, and repositioned three decorative Christmas pillows on a bench. After a half hour of this, I realized there was no perfect that was perfect enough. But my building frustration led to a re-thinking of, “What is it I’m really looking for?”

Anticipation and expectation come with the Christmas territory and are worthy attributes. When rightly directed and defined, they lead to faith, hope, and a joyful reunion with all who gathered on that holiest of nights. They speak of someone achieving great things of which we’re the beneficiaries of inheritance. Candles in the window, trees dressed in light and shining tinsel, evergreen wreaths on doors — all are invitations, our warm welcomes, to the One that truly matters.

The Community of Jesus

When the road takes a sharp turn

By Renaissance Girl

I recently embarked on an adventure. I was starting something new that, actually, made me quite afraid.  It was outside of what seemed logical, and it forced me to ask God at every turn “what do I do?” It took some preparation, and each decision I made felt like I could be making a huge mistake — but it seemed like it was what God was asking, so I tried to do it. I wish I could say that I am familiar with living like this — abandoned to God — but I am not and that made it all the scarier, and yet at the same time, hopeful.

And then, suddenly, just when things were wrapped up, the road took a sharp turn. What I thought I was going to be starting didn’t work out. I find myself asking God what he intended in all of this, and what I should do now. What was the point of the preparation if only to run into a road-block?

I will tell you I don’t have answers yet. What I do know is that every day, every moment, is a choice. A choice to ask the question again and not retreat into anger and disappointment and accusation. A choice to trust, even when “logic” says to be skeptical, because if this didn’t work out, maybe the next thing won’t either. My pride desperately wants to save me from getting excited about something only to see it pass by.

I opened a card yesterday that someone had given me when I was preparing for this adventure. They included a prayer about trust — and in that moment I saw God. He knew I’d need this prayer even more in this moment — when I was most tempted to distrust:

Trust, you say, and so I will.  But at times its thread wears thin, and rubs raw the palms of my hands.  Yet I cling to it, for you have shown that in every circumstance, trust leads to Love eventually. Take the pieces of my life and make them one. Smooth the edges, mold the shapes until, with perfect symmetry, they interlock and become the “me” you long for. I can’t make this “me” puzzle fit, though I often try. Master Craftsman of body, mind, and spirit — let it be so, for I trust in you.”

The Community of Jesus

 

 

No Easy Thing

By Sr. Nun Other

I believe true forgiveness is a process, and not a single event. I can say the proper words to end an unpleasant and difficult encounter, but I know words are not enough. I’ll rehash the hurt, sense of injustice, and anger many times before the work of genuine forgiveness is complete. I’m not proud of my slowness of heart, nor am I particularly ashamed of it. Forgiveness is a cherished commodity, forged as gold, and worthy of the perseverance it requires. It equally benefits both the forgiver and the forgiven.

The Community of Jesus