Dear Friends, July 13-19. 2020
It is truly a “Lazy-Daisy Summer,” as we called it as children. But the “daisy” part, represented by the Black Eyed Susan family, has come in a weak second this year. As I drove to the monastery, Queen Anne’s Lace won the survival derby hands down. We are in a minor drought, with leaves beginning to shrivel. At the Hermitage Spiritual Retreat Center we have begun to reopen slowly, asking that a retreatant meet us wearing a mask as we indicate the hermitage where the person will be staying. This has worked well so far. In the past several months our weekly newspaper has boasted that our county has had no corona virus cases. This week, however, there was no such mention, and the local grocery has returned to its previous precautions. I believe that it is largely out of American cantankerousness about being told what to do that our country is now #1 in infestation. Fr. Thaddeus was going to open the monastery to visitors on August 1, but has now decided for us to remain closed indefinitely -- perhaps even until a vaccine is developed. He is impressively cautious, even to the point of leaving the mail in the sun for a while before bringing it inside.
Upon arrival, I found that Br. Gabriel has added two large turtles to what promises to be the “amphibian sector” of his Garth Zoo; and I added ten more gold fish (upon request) to further his Sea World feature. The three white pigeons are having to carry the aviary section much by themselves, as many of the swallows have evidently returned to Capistrano, regarding the Trappist lifestyle as too slow for them. We are now collecting condensed water from our metal roofs to water the flowers and wildlife. Outside, the dogs and cat keep careful watch. But even in the blazing sun, the “vibrant” blue trimming remains “vibrant.”
My bulletin board assignments were to be priest on Wednesday and Sunday, server at our meals, and antiphonist for the Offices. I particularly like the twice-weekly “Dark Vigils” when with only one light the reader slowly reads the final three psalms. The dark hours are particularly sacred. The Nazareth Hermitage folks continue to come daily for mass, but have included coming for Lauds, quietly slipping into the back pews, apparently having trained even their van to honor monastic silence. But they are minus Sr. Margaret, who has badly twisted her ankle, breaking it in several places, and injuring muscles and tendons. Apparently she is in a heavy cast, knee high. It turns out that the garbed nun staying with them will be spending a six month sabbatical from her present community to seek greater solitude. Playful Br. Roberto, who returned to Vietnam several years ago for theological studies, is ready to rejoin us, but immigration restrictions have intensified so that the future is uncertain for him and the two priests awaiting interview. Fr. Thaddeus continues to use the “saw mill” to create beautiful oak and cedar lumber, the kind that is too expensive for lumberyards to carry. Fr. Cyprian continues to walk with increased assuredness. We are presently a community of 15 happy monks.
It is interesting to observe monks as we share out noonday meal. With the reader barely audible through our audio system, one monk provides his own reading; another makes an art out of scraping his plate and utensils meticulously clean with an orange peel; another practices his architectural skills with a banana peel; still another prefers two forks; and the same monk always is the last to finish, whether by habit, culture, or quantity I cannot detect. You get the idea. I appreciate the Psalmist who speaks of “walking lightly the
path you have chosen for me.” Yes lightly, even with a dance step and a smiling face. A married couple has only one person with whom to deal, but monks must deal with a whole community, some of whom one might never have chosen. So it is with a sense of humor that all things are possible, even with delight.
The theme for Wednesday’s homily was that who we are depends largely on where we stand in order to see. And so one of the most important things that Christ does for us is to disclose where we need to stand -- especially in order to see God. Most ancient religions attempted to do so by standing by some aspect of nature -- the Sun, or Rain, or a River, or even a Tree. Certainly nature can provide some positive clues regarding God, as when one stands on a mountain top, or is mesmerized by surging ocean waves. But all of these have a frightening negative side -- as the sun scorches, the ocean becomes a hurricane, and rains turn into floods. So it was with Israel, camped at the foot of Mount Sinai in order to understand God. It turned into a terrorizing volcano, and the people screamed out for Moses to go talk to that God but never let him come close to us! So it was out of fear, even terror, that they obeyed whatever Moses said that God said. Confronted by the Mountain God, the Old Testament can say, “Fear of the Lord is the beginning of Wisdom.” Many of us were raised with such a God -- who watched every move with a threat of punishment, sickness being an expression of God’s anger, and over it all hung the threat of hell. The ultimate maternal expression was, “You just wait until your father comes home, and he will put the fear of God in you!” Thus it is crucial to understand that Jesus provides a very different place for us to stand in order the encounter the real character of the real God. In fact, Christ reverses the issue: for what matters is not where WE choose to stand in order to see, but where GOD chooses to stand in order to be seen. And each of the day’s readings make it clear that where God will always be found is with losers, for in as much as you minister to the least of these you do it to me. It is in the eyes of a starving child, says God, that you will see me sobbing. It is in the cry of the poor and hungry, says God, that you will hear my voice. And it is in the outreached arms of the homeless that you can feel my embrace.
On Friday at 1:30 PM Bishop Leibrecht (retired) visited the Abbey. He spent the morning with the hermits of Nazareth, and the later afternoon with the Benedictine Sisters. His comments were almost all about the Corona-virus, quite concerned about the victims and the impact on the Church. He shared its seriousness, indicating that the city of Springfield has made masks mandatory for everyone in public, with a $100 penalty. Fr. Basil indicated that there are presently 15 cases in our county. A book is being prepared for Bishop Edward’s 60th birthday, with each of us given a page in which to write our personal prayers and wishes for his health and faithfulness.
Sunday’s readings are packed with very positive aspects of God’s lifestyle -- caring, lenient, forgiving, gracious, gentle, faithful, compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in kindness. Therefore it follows that so should Christians be -- like tiny seeds growing slowly into tall bushes for the birds of the sky to nest, and tiny lumps of leaven making bread of the whole loaf. This all sounds fine until we realize how this lifestyle characterizing both God and the Christian is that of NON-VIOLENCE, contrasting radically with the violent lifestyle of our society. Just last week President Trump spoke for millions when he was asked, “What is your favorite verse in the Bible?” Without hesitation he declared, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” In justifying his choice he insisted, “Everywhere people are taking advantage of us -- we’ve got to be tough!” Thus if our society really understood the Christian lifestyle, many would utterly scorn it -- seeing non-violence as being weak, being gutless, being soft, being vulnerable, and therefore being useless in dealing with today’s problems. Yet let me suggest that what we desperately need today are leaders characterized by this very lifestyle -- in government, churches, schools, and monasteries. Instead of leaders forcefully taking sides in our polarized society, we need those who take Jesus’ lead, and model for all of us how to walk in the shoes of other people. There is not a ghost of a chance for change unless we are willing to walk in the shoes of African Americans, experiencing as if our own what it is like to shoulder daily the burden of prejudice. But equally important it is to walk in the shoes of the Southerner who angrily opposes tearing down statues of the Confederacy, feeling for ourselves what it is like for them to have destroyed the symbols of a past that once served as their foundation. I have found myself able to work with murderers on death row by walking in their shoes long enough to feel what it would be like to live as an abused, abandoned child. Our society is being torn asunder because so many persons desperately feel unheard and misunderstood -- acting out in anger their hurt, yelling in various ways: “If only you had experienced what I experienced -- but you just don’t understand!” An effective leader would be one who instead of threatening either side with violence can honestly and sincerely say to both sides, “I understand, I really do.” That is what the Christ event is all about -- that God in Christ came to walk in our shoes. By becoming like us in every way, walking where we walk, being tempted as we are tempted, and experiencing all that we have to experience, it is then that what God says of us we can say about God: “He is one of us.”
During this extended period of quarantine, perhaps it would be helpful if we worked at strengthening out imagination.
God bless us all,