It is my last morning at the monastery. We have just finished Matins. Now is the time when I usually nap for about an hour before we begin our communal time of Bible reading. Today I wanted to reflect a little on the last four days.
I spent most of the first day sleeping. Father Abbot encourages that. It is senseless to force your body until it collapses. When we are well rested and at peace with ourselves we can find our disciplined rhythm. After the first day, I was able to participate in the full cycle of the prayers with the brothers. Of course, even with enough rest, it is still hard to get up in the morning to pray. It helps a great deal to pray together--even if your are praying together each in your own cell. It reminds me of my running days. In those days I could (and often did) push myself to run ten miles alone at a good clip, but it was always easier with a few friends. We drew some sort of energy from each other. One plus one is significantly more than two.
Father Abbot found this to be true in his years praying alone as a solitary hermit. He says that he became aware of the angels and saints--the great cloud of witnesses--praying with him. He was not praying alone. It was not merely his own energy, although, as he says, he often had to force himself to get the ball rolling, to get prayer started. Maybe this is one of the reasons why the Church teaches us to pray before the icons. The icons help make present for us the Holy Ones, our Lord Christ, His Holy Mother, the Angels, the Saints, all who are praying with and for us. Truly it is not our own energy we feel when we pray--if we can just get out of bed and get the ball rolling.
Wednesday, one of the brothers quoted a saying of Mother Theresa (of Calcutta) to me. It went something like this: "Even a cup of water, in Christ's hands, becomes infinite." I had been thinking about God's graciousness to accept the inadequate offering of our inadequate lives. The brother with Mother Theresa's words showed me even deeper wonders of God's graciousness. Our inadequate offering becomes infinite in God's hands. The God who takes dust and makes a human being, then takes a human being and makes him a son of God. Both are miracles of equal profundity. "This is the Lord's doing," as the psalmist says, "And it is marvellous in our eyes."
I spent a couple of hours yesterday looking through books about Mother Theresa trying to find the quotation. I spent most of the time crying. I could not see the pictures and read her words without feeling great pain and hope at the same time. Human dust at its lowest and highest. Christ in suffering human being and Christ in the compassionate human being. Christ in the suffering of the one who feels compassion and Christ in the compassion of the one who suffers.
Today I go back to my parish. I love Holy Nativity Church. I love the people. I love leading them in prayer and helping them draw closer to God. I love helping them see the Hand of the Husbandman in the painful pruning of their lives, helping them learn the lessons, helping them recognize the call and way of repentance. I never (well, almost never) feel like I want to escape to the monastery. But I do need to escape sometimes, not because I want to leave something, but because I need to find something. I need to find myself.
Sometimes when I return from the monastery, people ask me if I feel recharged. I say yes, but really that is not what I feel. I feel more like I have found myself again. I feel like I see a little bit more clearly what is real, what is true, what is worthwhile. I feel like my internal compass has been calibrated.
Okay, I've got about a half hour left to nap. I think I'll take it.