Monastery: Day Three
Yesterday was very peaceful. I took a long nap in the early afternoon and then helped one of the brothers cut into carry-able lengths an alder tree that had fallen across the path to the cross on top of the hill behind the monastery. We used a large bow saw, one on each side. Just the sawing was a good workout. Then we carried the logs back to the monastery to become firewood. On tuesday, when I was out walking on the road, he had cut an eight-foot section of the tree and quartered it (by splitting) and carried that back to the monastery to be dried for a year or so and then be made into furniture. The brother told me that one of his greatest joys is to create something beautiful and useful from a tree--taking the wood every step from felling to final varnishing.
I rejoice that there are such people. His joy is contagious, even if his love for labor is much harder to catch.
I walked up to the cross on the hill this morning. In fact, I am writing this sitting on the bench next to the cross.
Toward the end of the Jesus Prayer time and all through Matins this morning, I was engaged in spiritual warfare. I was solving problems in my mind. It's amazes me how easy it is to solve problems when you are supposed to be praying. Of course the "solutions" are seldom that. In the light of day, out of the foggy mist of my distracted, imagined reality, they are worthless, if I remember them at all. One very funny irony about this morning was that I caught myself figuring out how to teach someone not to be distracted in prayer while I was supposed to be praying. Ha! Sometimes the demons just play with my head. (Well, even to attribute such a thing to demons may be claiming too much for myself. My mind is perfectly capable of wandering on its own.)
Generally speaking, however, I have been able to find a great deal of stillness. It feels so good just to be at peace. Just to be, not to be thinking about what the next thing is that needs to be done. Ten minutes of such peace is worth more than several days of regular vacation. Even the fasting doesn't bother me very much. When I feel a little hungry, I just say to myself that dinner will be after vespers. I don't have to plan or prepare it. It will just be there, and then I will eat.
The joy of meal time is really indescribable. The bothers don't take their meal in silence. They are generally silent all day long unless they need to say something (or they have a guest like me who feels compelled to say something just to hear his own echo). But at dinner, they talk. The talk is simple, about the day; yet it is full of anecdotes, anecdotes that leave me with a feeling. I want to say either "Thank God" or "Lord have mercy" or just feel joy or satisfaction or the deep irony of poetic justice. Then after dinner, we all sit and talk for another 45 minutes or so eating our dessert of raisins and almonds. Father Abbot talks about whatever is on his mind. Real dessert. Peacefully we hug and kiss one another and go off to our cells for reading or private prayer rules and then off to sleep.
Every night and morning I share a sink with the brother who loves wood. We brush our teeth together and he tells me that he appreciated my insight into something we spoke about earlier in the day (a comment about a verse that I had picked up in an academic journal long ago). I tell him that I appreciate his love for and ability to work with wood. We hug and kiss each other on the cheek, and I go off to my cell deeply at peace. I don't even remember thinking about anything. I just fell asleep.
This afternoon I have confession time with Father Abbot in his cell. I used to dread confession. I don't so much any more. I just talk about my weaknesses and what has been bothering me. Sometimes I talk about problems in the church that I am particularly at a loss to address. Father never tells me what to do--even when I ask him to do so. He has opinions, sometimes strong ones. But he never makes me feel bad or wrong because I don't see it exactly the same way. Yet his words haunt me. And over the weeks and months I find myself seeing things in ways that are increasingly similar to his. I think that is probably how it is supposed to happen.
Tonight we have spaghetti to celebrate my last meal with the brothers this visit. Typically meals consist of cooked vegetables and a grain, so spaghetti is a big deal. We might even have the brother's homemade wine with dinner. Simple, simple men living a simple, simple life, yet possessing the wealth no one can buy.