I spent the last five days in silence with seven other people at Holy Cross Abbey. I make the journey to Berryville once a year, craving a break from the city, from a home in which the television is on way too often, from the demands of life, and from a life that is patterned after these demands.
And I've fallen in love again.
I've fallen in love with mountains that call me to prayer as I lift my eyes to the hills, lush greenery on which the cattle graze, sunflowers that have grown taller than me, an image of a tree planted near water that makes me long to be where it is, and God - the One behind every good and perfect gift, the One who causes the sun to rise at day and illuminates the darkness at night.
I've also fallen in love with the vision of community that the monks make real. Their life together is beautiful, sacred and compelling. They make me imagine growing old in community. I can taste and see the goodness that comes when you are living with people who share food and resources, who take you to the doctor and get your medicine, who labor together with the one goal of providing enough for the community, and who pray together six times throughout the day starting at 3:00 in the morning and ending at 7:30 at night.
While many of us are filled with fear about what ISIS could do in our country today, the monks have been praying, naming the reality of evil and a God who can overcome evil. While I tossed and turned in my bed last night, dreaming about not having enough food at Vacation Bible School this week, I realize that I slept peacefully each of the four nights I was at the monastery, tucked in with prayers of the Abbot who asks God to bring a peaceful night's rest and a peaceful death upon all his brothers before sprinkling each monk and guest with holy water whose drops soak me with remembrances of my baptism, my belovedness. While I purchased way too much food at the new Wegman's yesterday, I realize I had more than enough while at the monastery when three dishes were served at lunch and another three at supper.
I've drenched myself in the rich gifts Paul describes in Ephesians in a way I've never allowed myself to be before. I've sought to fully receive the spiritual blessings Christ offers each day, to ponder anew what it means to be holy and blameless before Christ in love, to think deeply about words and phrases like "good pleasure," "freely bestowed," "riches of his grace," and "lavished on us." I've never understood Christ's "good pleasure" so powerfully before.
And I've fallen in love with good books. I read "My First White Friend," a book I picked up after being so touched by Patricia Raybon's workshop I attended at Princeton in early June. I continued with "The Book of Forgiving" and am convinced that every person needs to read this book - especially if you're struggling to let go of the pain caused by another. I consumed "Being Church" and can hardly wait to share insights during our September sermon series. I skimmed "Simplify" and started David Brooks' new book as well as the novel, "All the Light We Cannot See." My mind has been renewed and transformed.
Are these gifts - these good and perfect gifts - only available within the monastic life? Must I flee from the world's demands to soak up Christ's good pleasure? Do I need to make a quarterly reservation at the abbey?
I pray not.
What I pray instead is that the community formed on the corner of 9th and Massachusetts will continue to share life together in a way that promises no one is living alone (whether we have roommates or not). I pray each person in our community has someone who can drive them to the hospital when they're having a test, who can bring a meal when they're in pain, who can visit when they're feeling alone, who can hold their hand when they're breathing their lasts breaths, who can pray in a way that reminds us who we are and whose we are. I pray we can hear and study the gift of scripture in a way that makes us crave the capacity to know Jesus even more, to be holy and blameless before Christ. I pray that our minds can constantly be renewed and transformed as we desire to be in small groups that study God's word together, allowing it to shape and form our lives. I pray that we will see what enough is for us and generously share with others. I pray that we will show up throughout the week, not coming to church on Sunday but being church all the time.
And I pray that I'll pattern my days after first seeking God's will while continuously seeking God's direction throughout the day. I pray I can remember to ask God to tuck me in at night, to not forget my belovedness no matter how much pain or comparison or incompleteness a day might hold.
Plant me by streams of grace, mercy and love, dear God. Help me drink from your rich gifts on all my days. And thank you for an amazing week away. Amen.