Monday, November 30, 2009


I wonder as I wander out under the sky

How Jesus the Savior did come for to die

For poor on'ry people like you and like I;
I wonder as I wander out under the sky
~John Jacob Niles

Perhaps the greatest loss we experience as we move from childhood into adult is losing our sense of wonder. Children are full of wonder. As children, our lives are naturally alert to the surprises, pleasures and beauty of life pulsating all around us. Children are quick to take delight in little things, like shiny stones along a river bank or the winter thrill of snowflakes.

Every year, our family returns to Olympic National Park in the summer for a week of hiking in the backcountry, usually journeying fifty miles on foot. That single week has done more to nourish my soul with a profound sense of wonder than any other week of the year. A few years ago, as we came off the trail, I picked up a copy of the Olympic National Park newspaper, “The Bugler”. There I found a quote from Socrates the Wise, who claimed, “The beginning of wisdom is wonder.” Months after returning from the high-country of the Olympics, I’ve feasted richly upon the sounds and sights of that week of wonder.

Wonder most often comes as a surprise. We wander into it unknowing. We gaze and gaze attempting to take in the sight of glory. Our words fall short; yet, our hearts well up with an inner sense of wonder. Thus, wonder is a twice blessed gift, giving delight in our first encounter with such fullness; and once again as we look with that inward eye, as Wordsworth wrote, ‘which is the bliss of solitude’. As we take time to reflect upon the vision of wonder, our hearts fill once again with pleasure and we discover ourselves dancing ‘with the daffodils’.

Besides summer hikes in the Olympics, the other time of the year that seem as charged with a sense of wonder is the month of December, during the season of Advent. As we celebrate the coming of Christ, our home begins to fill with those delights which come out only once a year. We cut snowflakes to put up on every window. We bring a fresh cut fir tree inside the home, decorating it with traditional ornaments, including Danish flags in honor of my wife’s cultural heritage. The air is filled with smells and sounds of the season, including spiced wine, Christmas cookies. Bedrooms become places full of delightful wonders, hiding gifts that will be wrapped and placed under the tree.

During Christmas, we expect the unexpected. We become children once again. We take time to wonder. In our return to childhood, we share together the delight of wonder. We look up into the clear December sky and think of that Bethlehem star that once led wise men to the place of wonder. There, they laid down their gifts before the Christ child, kneeling to worship and honor the child who would be King.

When Mary birthed Jesus 'twas in a cow's stall
With wise men and farmers and shepherds and all
But high from God's heaven, a star's light did fall
And the promise of ages it then did recall.

On Christmas eve, we gather together, joined by a common sense of wonder at God’s generosity. We sing carols celebrating the coming of God into our darkened world to save ‘poor on’ry people, like you and like I’. We are all in need of saving grace. Instead of gratitude and wonder, we rush through our lives, taking little time to fall on our knees and hear the angels singing. We surround ourselves with layers upon layers of technology insulating our senses from the glory of creation, buffering our lives from being surprised by wonder. We’ve given up our innocence, trading in our childhood wonder for an office cubicle crammed with machines and worry.

How can we return? How can we find our way back to that five year old age of innocence where we might once again take delight in rain drops falling on our faces? Every year, I take a few teenage kids around our village, home to home, on a dark night in December to sing carols to widows. This event has helped recall for me the way back into wonder. We can travel together to that place of wonder. The way is illuminated by poetry and song. Sing together those lovely Christmas carols, even in July as you wander through a natural cathedral of ancient trees and allow your heart to wonder as you wander out under the sky.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Dosewallips River


For several years, I traveled two hours from my home once a month to spend the day at a Trappist Abbey, located in Yamhill County, southwest of Portland. My plan was to arrive in mid-morning, spend the day in silence and solitude, and head home after Compline. Set in the heart of farmlands, "Our Lady" nestles against an oak-forested hillside, looking out over expansive fields and vineyards. A mile-long cloister drive greets you as you turn off Abbey Road.

As I stepped out of the car on one of my visits, dozens of birds welcomed me in song from the trees about the cloister. A flowering white dogwood seemed caught up in joyful contemplation of her Creator. I can’t explain it. Life looks different from the other side of that driveway. Even the air seems to breathe slower, as if in prayer.

The first time I retreated to Our Lady, I was wakened by the bells. The cloister courtyard hung heavy with an October mist. That same mist hung about my spirit as I entered the Chapel and heard the brothers chants their Psalms to begin the day’s holy work. Much of my spiritual life with God seems to be in a fog. My monthly retreats to the monastery have helped to melt away this fog and gift me with greater spiritual vision.

Later in the day on that first retreat to Our Lady, after several naps, time in prayer and Vespers, I strolled down the driveway with one of the brothers, caught up in a delightful conversation about the spiritual life. The mist was gone, the warmth of the evening sun upon our faces. The Lord bless you and keep you and make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you (Numbers 6:24-26).These ancient words came to me at Compline that evening.

After Compline, monks enter the great silence of the cloister, resting their lives in the peace of God, hearing the closing words of Psalm 4 ringing in the ear of their hearts. In peace will I both lie down and sleep, for you alone O Lord make me to dwell in safety. Every time I stay overnight at the monastery, there is a deep sense of peace resting upon the place, and I enjoy the gift of peaceful sleep. These same words keep returning to me as I turn for home along monastic driveways, renewed in my soul as a spiritual friend of God.


Friday, November 13, 2009


My soul finds rest in God alone, my salvation comes from him. ~Psalm 62:1

Halfway up a hillside across several fields from the monastic buildings, the brothers of Gethsemane have placed life-sized bronze statues of the sleeping disciples, Peter, James and John. Continue up to the top of the forested hill and you’ll find the praying Jesus in agony. The monks call that hillside “The garden of Gethsemane”. Something in the quality of that statue of Jesus in prayer awoke my prayer life unlike any sermon I’ve ever heard on the subject of prayer. While we lie asleep, having given in to the various temptations, mostly ineffective in our spiritual life with God, Jesus continues to pray for us. Could you not keep watch with me for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.[i] This singular activity is what lies at the heart of the spiritual life, including a monk’s vocational calling.

High above the entrance into the retreat house at Gethsemane Abbey, carved in granite, you find the words in capital letters, GOD ALONE. These words are drawn from Psalm 62:1 which reads, My soul finds rest in God alone. This spiritual reminder has traveled with me long after my departure from my various retreat weekends at Gethsemane.

After one of my visits to Gethsemane Abbey, I stopped through Bardstown, to fill up with gas before heading home. After a week of silence and solitude in such a place as Gethsemane Abbey, I was slapped in the face with the crass, hurried pace of civilization. Words seemed cheap, advertisements banal, and people bored or misdirected.

Strange though. After time in the cloister, I found my spirit full of compassion towards people. Spiritual journeys are to be shared. People are genuinely hungry for spiritual food and drink, including pastors.

What Gethsemane has to offer at the end of their mile long driveway most people yearn for but seldom seek, ask or find. Benedict had a clear vision of hospitality, carried out to this day in every Benedictine monastery: All guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ, for he himself will say, ‘I was a stranger and you welcomed me’.[ii] This same Christ works the night shift, staying awake through the watches of the night to pray for our souls to find rest in God alone while we sleep.

[i] Matthew 26:40-41

[ii] RB53:1

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Monday, November 2, 2009


Perched on a hilltop overlooking the Pacific, Prince of Peace Abbey offered me a quiet midday reprieve from people and busyness. I had spent the previous day in Long Beach, at the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, U.S.A.. I’ve never enjoyed church politics or ecclesiastical business. After observing the machinery of the Presbyterian Church for a day, I was looking for a quiet place to reflect and pray. Prince of Peace Abbey welcomed me into God’s quiet circle of grace, a place to read, pray and renew my spirit.

A neighbor to Camp Pendleton, the Prince of Peace Abbey stands as a counter-culture witness to our national defense industry. The driveway meanders up “S” curves, past acres of wrecked cars. The sounds of cars being crushed at the junkyard below can be heard in the arroyo below from the ridge top where I walked and prayed through the fourteen “Stations of the Cross”, a meditation on the crucifixion of Christ. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5).

Benedict thought it wise for monks to meditate upon death. Day by day remind yourself that you are going to die (RB 4). This kind of spiritual insight doesn’t go over real well on Wall Street or Main Street. The twin worlds of business and leisure groan with the pressure to produce something bigger, better, more exciting. Monks have taught me to learn how to die from those who are living life to the fullest in the face of death.The best time to learn this hard lesson is in the middle of a busy day.

During the midday prayer service known as Day Hour, I marveled at the sunlight beaming through a vast stained glass mosaic window of depicting the glory of Creation. Far out on the horizon, we also could see the glimmering blue of the Pacific Ocean.

After prayer, the Abbot took me on a tour of Prince of Peace Abbey, including some quiet time for meditation in the tropical cloister flower garden. In typical Benedictine fashion, we then gathered as family in the monastic dining room to enjoy lunch together, eaten in silence. Stopping at midday, with both body and soul taking time to rest, we gather our lives together to once again find the gift of shalom, that spiritual restoration and well being which is our heart’s true gift from the Prince of peace.