As we were chanting the praises this morning (Psalms 148-150), it seemed to me that the whole creation was indeed praising God through these simple men. Fr. Stephen Freeman in his Ancient Faith Radio podcasts often comments that the will and voice of the universe is the human being, for human beings are nothing more than the matter of creation (dust), animated and fused with God's Spirit (breath). When human beings praise God, the whole creation is praising God in and through them. When human beings sin, the whole of creation participates in the degradation.
Yet here in the hills, in a simple, rough timber house, live three men who live for nothing else but to rise early and praise God. While we are all sleeping, they rise and begin to pray. Rising at 2:00, they wash and dress and get the fire going in the basement. Then at 3:00 they begin to recite the Jesus Prayer alone in their cells. At 4:00 matins begins, lasting to 5:30 or 6:00. Then back to their cells for spiritual reading and their personal prayer rule (I always use this time to nap, except today when I am writing this note). At 7:30 they begin one hour of Bible reading together, with occasional comments by the Abbot.
Why do they do it? It's not like they get paid to pray--like a priest in a parish who receives a salary. These brothers pray from the wee hours until daylight, and then they work to support themselves. As a hermitage, they do not generally receive visitors, so they do not receive many donations. They sew most of their own clothes, they make candles to pay the bills and buy the few grains and other food stuff that they cannot grow. They work like bees all day. Then at 5:00, they pray vespers, followed by dinner at 6:00--their one meal--usually vegan.
And here's the thing: they're happy. They're at peace. They really love each other in purity, sincerity and with self sacrifice. And no one in the world knows. The world sleeps. The world sleeps and struggles through a nightmare. Those in the world sacrifice their own integrity to gain wealth that slips through their fingers, to satisfy animal cravings and burning desires that never seem to be satisfied. They get and get, but it is never enough. They medicate themselves to hide from the pain. This is the sleep of the world.
Father Abbot was saying to me yesterday that the married life is the sacramental life, God's original plan; and that monastic life is for the odd balls, for the ones who don't fit, who can do nothing else but offer their lives in prayer. But when I rise early with these odd balls and join in their prayer, I get the distinct feeling that they are the ones holding the universe together, they are the ones who make it possible for mommies and daddies to love their children and each other with something approaching Christ-like love.
Men and women in the woods and in the desserts, the odd balls who pray, the ones who have nothing else to offer God but their lives in prayer--these are the ones who, I think, sustain the universe, through whom the universe praises God.
May God have mercy on us who live in the world, married and single, who sleep while others pray. May we be humbled by the offering of others, and each learn in our own ways and in our own stations in life also to offer our lives to God. That in some small way the universe would praise God through us too.