“We as followers of Christ don’t have some kind of special super power. We are not the spiritually elite. We just have the authority to show up. To show up and proclaim the nearness of God that scatters the darkness. And we can show up for life and for each other and for the world because what we need for healing and sustenance is always the same as the simple, ordinary things right in front of us—that’s just the way God works.“ -Nadia Bolz Weber
Early this morning, I was reading the story of Jesus feeding the 5,000 and already knowing the end, I started losing focus when surprisingly the story grabbed my imagination—as if to say, “don’t be so bored”—I have more to teach you. “Jesus then took the loaves and gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted.”
And I started thinking of Nadia’s quote in relation to being seated. Being seated is simple un-profound, and not hard to do. The people with Jesus that day simply had to show up, sit, and Jesus did the rest.
Daily I’m crying out to Jesus, where are you? What are you saying to me? Why can’t I find more answers? I want more assuredness from God, more peace, more answers, less doubt. I assume I must need to do more of “something” to gain access to God.
Sitting can be challenging. It feels unproductive, a little boring, vulnerable and uncomfortable. Yet I need not run, hide, or try to produce, but simply sit and take in what God puts right in front of me today.
Perhaps in the rootedness of staying put, we open ourselves to the possibility to receive from a God who wishes to give us as much goodness as we dare to want.
Sometimes I clear my thought collection by writing poetry. I un-jumble the jumbled mess by sorting, eliminating, and re-arranging words on paper. Recently, I captured the words thistle thorns and placed them in my reject section. However, they persisted and insisted on space in my poem.
I’m of Scottish descent and somewhere in Scotland, there’s a clan chief and a run-down castle that bears my name. Enter the lowly thistle, scorned by gardeners, despised by children in bare feet, and just below dandelion on the least wanted list. It also happens to be Scotland’s oldest recorded National Flower. A 13th century legend tells of Viking invaders, who hoped to capture the Scots as they slept. Their plan failed when a barefooted soldier tromped on a thistle, cried out in pain, and woke the sleeping Scots. If I’m any example, Scots are not morning people, and the Vikings were quickly overcome by enraged clansmen.
The thistle is a symbol of tenacity. It’s both a humble weed and a complex entity composed of soft downy flower and sharp thorns. Its roots reach deep, it keeps a stubborn grip on the land, and flourishes in adversity. I’m aware that God hands me flowers with thorns now and then. The beauty of the flower is a blessing, but it’s the thorns that make me strong.
I live in a wing of our Convent called “Elim”. It’s a Biblical name that means oasis, a shelter in the desert, a place of serenity and refuge. I’m fully aware that my personality brings daily chaos to the oasis, and that its godly purpose rests on fragile ground. One thing I can do is help create order and beauty in the space itself. I discovered an interesting verse, Psalm 93:5, that says: Your statutes, Lord, stand firm; holiness adorns your house for endless days. It occurred to me that all places (and people) dedicated to God should be adorned with holiness. I’m not sure what all that means, but I do know that beauty in ordinary things is an important component.
Last week was a particularly special and significant week for our monastic community, because it is the week in which novices, and simple professed members can make their professions.
TheRule of Life of the Community of Jesus states, “Though in its essence Christian discipleship is a vocation common to all believers, the vows made in a monastic life give that discipleship a distinct form.” The next page continues on to say, “Following centuries of monastic tradition, membership in the Community of Jesus is built upon three primary vows: obedience, conversion, and stability.”
Hearing these professions serves as a reminder to me of the life-choices I have committed to in this particular place. I think it can also serve to remind all Christians of their daily choices to follow Christ. Each morning I’m given anew the choice to step into the endless stream of the unceasing love, mercy, and creativity of God. The choice is mine to reject — or to wade forward on faith: the opportunity is always newly presented. Many days I have to remind myself to re-choose this discipleship, to choose to believe in God’s promised goodness as a backdrop for my life today.
This past Wednesday was our annual vow service. It is one of the most beautiful nights of the year. The church, still clothed in Christmas garb, glows with the warmth of candle light. The vowed Community, robed with white scapulars, fill the seats on either side of the aisle the candidate will walk. And the candidate, this year already robed and making final vows, exudes a light that comes with saying Yes.
I find everything about the service moving, from the hymns, to the speaking of the vows, to the moment where the candidate prostrates him or herself at the foot of the altar in a moment of total vulnerability and surrender. It’s an event where the ever-moving stream of history is almost palpable and the unity with monastics across time and space is humbling to say the least. And it is a moment that reminds each of us of our own call.
The most beautiful moment to me, is the chanting of the Suscipe — an ancient and traditional chant for the final vows in a Benedictine Community. The newly vowed sings it once on their own and then, in a chorus of support, the entire vowed community repeats it. It is as though, through the Latin text, we are pledging to stand with the newly professed, and they with us — a bond of obedience and dependence on God. And we sing it, knowing we will stumble, that sometimes we will want to quit, and that sometimes, we just need to stand still.
“Suscipe me Domine, secundum eloquium tuum at vivam; et non confundas me, ab expectatione mea.”
Uphold me, Lord, according to your word, and do not disappoint me in my hope.
Sunday we celebrated the Feast of the Transfiguration. It is the event for which our church is named and an expression of our vows — the willingness, and even eagerness, to be changed — transformed “into his likeness from one degree of glory to another” ( 2 Cor: 2,18). It’s no small thing this transfiguration business. Old opinions and ideas die hard and it can sometimes feel like surgery without anesthesia. And it doesn’t necessarily produce instant results…and that’s the kicker for me. I am a black and white “if I do this then this will happen” sort of person. I want to be able to chart my progress in spiritual growth. The sermon reminded us that that isn’t how it works. The scripture says, “from one degree of glory to another” — little by little, sometimes imperceptible — and we may not notice anything has changed until we look back. So we keep going and try, as Oswald Chambers says, to: “Let other things come and go as they will…but never be hurried out of the relationship of abiding in Him. And the more we abide in Him, the more we will come to resemble Him – from one degree of glory to another.”
I drove out to Truro yesterday, about 40 minutes-plus with traffic the way it is now. I clean a house that is over 300 years old. It’s a beautiful spot on a hillside and the house is lovely with wide floor boards and antique furniture. It seems like every time I go there’s a new little buckle in the floor or crack in the ceiling. But it’s amazing that after 300 years it still stands and nothing has actually fallen apart. The foundation is literally tree trunks and stumps – huge and sturdy. Everything creaks and shifts but there is a sense of stability that allows the creaks to be added charm rather than cause for concern. I’m sure someday it will need major work, but for now, it stands firm.
There’s something to be said for building on a firm foundation. The creaks and cracks can be tended to without having to rebuild the whole house.
We live in a world where repetitive events give definition to our lives. Nature cycles include day and night, weeks, months, years and seasons. These events give a certain anchor of stability in our uncertain and changing world. As the liturgy developed, it reflected these same cycles, because the spiritual and the natural are closely intertwined.
It is helpful to think of these cycles in concentric circles, the Daily Cycle, which includes the Eucharist and the Liturgy of the Hours. The next cycle is the Weekly Cycle, which begins on Sunday. The Yearly Cycle takes us through the Liturgical Seasons — most importantly being the seasons of Advent and Christmas, Lent, and Easter. Each year we revisit the birth, passion, death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, and are taken deeper into our faith through this cyclical experience. The other Yearly Cycle is the cycle of Saints, whose Feast Days punctuate the Liturgical Year.
Above the rhythm of the day’s prayer there arches the greater rhythm of the day by day, month by month conformity to the given pattern. Prayer is cumulative. The repetitive rhythmic reiteration takes us up into the flow of centuries of tradition, out of the past into the present, and out of the present into the future. And with this sense of timelessness within time, we are naturally drawn into the awareness of the transcendent, into the incomprehensible no-time of God.
On Sunday, we celebrated the thirteenth anniversary of the dedication of The Church of the Transfiguration. The service included points of remembrance, such as the singing of a hymn written for the dedication itself. After the service, guests joined us for coffee and sweet rolls near the Atrium. Sunlight highlighted the sculpted art work, as the Atrium fountain celebrated in its own joy-filled way.
It occurs to me that dedication of – setting apart for sacred use – requires from me dedication to. To be entrusted with so magnificent a worship space requires long term commitment, devotion, constancy, reliability and faithfulness in response to God’s love.
Come to me, all you that are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. -Matthew 11:28
This scripture is sometimes known as “The Comfortable Words”. An old fashioned use of the word “comfortable”, harkening back to the roots of the word (the Latin confortare: con plus fortis which meant “to strengthen”). Not the way we use the word today but a meaning worth recovering, I’d say.