The earth is composed of layers: surface, crust, mantle, outer core and inner core. And so are we. I have a surface-self, carefully constructed of what I want others to see. Successive layers, less in my control, lead to the heart of the matter. Psalm 51:10 petitions, Create in me a pure heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. God promises in Ezekiel 36:26-27, A new heart I will give you; and a new spirit I will put within you. While I’m busy trying, God is busy transforming. And I hope He finds my heart, fallow ground, plowed and waiting for the essence of Christ to grow.
By Sr. Spero
The entire life of a Christian is an exercise in holy desire. St. Augustine
The Lauds reading this morning was from St. Augustine—about stretching our souls through holy desire. He used the illustration of a wineskin, the forerunner of the wine bottle, that could be stretched to hold more wine. I’ve never had to stretch a wineskin, but I’ve put too much in a suitcase, and been very grateful for a top zipper that expands my space. So I understand the concept.
St. Augustine’s point is that we are containers, of one sort or another, that should expand and stretch so that God can use us more and more. We do this through holy desire. As we desire God, we are being stretched, to be able to hold more of Him. I suspect spiritual stretching is like physical stretching. It takes effort, it’s sometimes painful, but always worth it. Lord, help me to desire you more and more, and not be surprised when I feel the stretching.
A month ago today Yoshio Inomata, one of our vowed brothers, entered the paradise chapter of his life. Yoshio is from Japan, so in addition to the usual monastic traditions around the liturgies and proceedings, we knew there would be special touches – flowers in the church, food at the reception – from his homeland. At the graveside, we always have a special time of telling stories and placing flowers as we fill the grave. In the middle of December flowers are rare to be found, so some of us had the idea of having the kids make paper cranes for Yoshio. They did a beautiful job, and we had baskets full of the brightly colored birds they passed around to all of us gathered there. As I watched everyone place their birds in the earth with Yoshio, the antithesis struck me: Yoshio’s soul and spirit were flying to heaven even as his body was placed in the earth, and these birds—meant to soar—buried there with him. I suddenly remembered this poem that another of our members had written years ago. Requiescat in pace, Yoshio!
With hollow bones a bird learns how to fly
Not once despising frame all delicate,
But pushed without the nest his wings to try,
Fast finds the air till flight’s inveterate –
And pauses not to ponder nor to care
How fragile are his limbs amidst his flight,
But boldly lifts his wings against the air
And mounts the wind all ignorant of fright.
And so each day, until he dies, he lives.
He soars aloft, aloud, and all replete,
Content with gifts that his Creator gives,
His weakness making all his life complete.
Who curses frailty wisdom needs implore,
For only those whose bones are hollow soar.
By Melodius Monk
Ever ask yourself the question, is this all life has to offer? Coming off the “holiday” season (you know the one that was supposed to make you feel peace and joy?) or the start of the New Year (when I realize that all of the grand resolutions I vowed to fix in my world may either be impossible, or not part of God’s timing)—perhaps this is a time when this question surfaces! It’s like when you work really hard planning a dinner party: the dinner happens—ends—and I’m left feeling disappointed. The party was fun, really fun in fact and enjoyed by all, but two days later I’m sad it’s over and start to wonder how long it will be until the next enjoyable moment in life. Instead of savoring the fun evening, I start to think if only I had prepared a little better for the party, maybe the feeling of satisfaction would have lasted a whole week instead of two days. Maybe next time I can buy better wine, or not invite so and so, or have the bruschetta just a little crisper, or add one more desert (even though we already had four, but I didn’t know my friend was off sugar)!
My guess is I’m not alone in this waste of time search for the ever elusive “more” in life. In her story-filled book, Sister Bridget Haase answers my questioning with a swift and simple belief. She writes, “You do not need to seek abundant life anywhere else. It is right here, right now, under our feet, and in the air we breathe. This is all there is to life and it is quite enough.”
This often inexhaustible search for more in life can manifest itself in small and large ways. God has planted within each of us exactly what we need for a full and abundant life. In her book Generous Faith, Sr. Bridget teaches us that this type of faith “compels us to mine, with integrity, fortitude, and abundance, the faith within each of us.” She continues; “We, too, are created to savor and enjoy every moment of life. Unfortunately we do just the opposite. When we shower, we plan the day’s schedule rather than simply feel the rush of water on our shoulders. When we smell a gardenia, we draw up future plans for a garden rather than just let the fragrance bless us. When we sit by a stream in a local park, we wish we were at a popular mountain resort, far away from our daily routine and duty, rather than hear the gurgling gift of flowing water. When we see flowering lilac bushes in the spring, do we begin a summer countdown or linger over the beauty of lilacs? When watermelon juice runs down our chin, do we wonder if mangoes would have tasted better?”
Though I believe Sr. Bridget’s words to be true, I need regular reminders that God makes no mistakes, and that in Jesus I will be given precisely what I need each day for a full and abundantly rich life.