Monday, February 28, 2011
Go to your local Benedictine Abbey as I did last week and you’ll observe an oddity. In the evening, monks walk into the sanctuary for worship together, side by side, two by two. As they approach the center of the choir, the pairs bow in unison twice, first forward to God, second side to side to one another. What’s all this business of bowing? Monastic life never did appear sensible to busy people.
The first bow I understand completely. After all, they’re monks. Isn’t the monastic life a total surrender of one’s life to God? Monks bow with their possessions, their time, their careers, with their whole lives, declaring in that gesture, “It’s not about me. It’s about God.” When you go into the sacred place next time, give it a try. Take a bow. A few years back, I started doing that little bend at the waist when I entered a sacred place. Strangely, something inside my soul brightened. It was like opening the window blinds and seeing the light of morning for the first time. God is already here. That slight bend of the waist simply acknowledged the wonder-filled presence of the Creator of the universe. One little bend of the waist and out flows all that spiritual stuff which gives our spines the shivers of wonder and reminds us what the wise sages have told us all along, that the chief end of Man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. The Gospel of St. Matthew records that the first thing the Magi did before presenting their extravagant gifts, was to bow in worship before this baby (Matthew 2:11).
That second bow of the monks though is a bit more troubling. I’d prefer my sacred encounter to be just between me and God. We’re into private practice of faith. We’re American. Just me and God. Don’t ask me to walk in together with a stranger. Don’t ask me to bow to the man in the black robe. I hardly even know the guy.
That’s the whole point. Acknowledge the presence of God in the face of a stranger. You’ll find this same expression in the customary greeting in India, “Namaste”. As two people meet, they bow and offer that greeting, which literally translates, “the sacred center of my soul recognizes the presence of God in the sacred center of your soul.” My life is connected with your life. My soul is a sacred space I open to you. I welcome you as a fellow faith pilgrim. Let’s walk together, worship together, learn to love one another. That’s what the second bow is all about.
After that second bow, the monks file quietly into the choir stalls, take their seats and the service begins. Most of what transpires during “the divine office”, as monks call their daily times of worship, most of what happens is antiphonal chanting of the Psalms. They face each other, reciting in simple song the words of ancient prayers, back and forth, line by line, alternating from one side to the next.
Do you see the genius of this arrangement? At the end of a day, monks goes to a sacred place together with other monks, bowing to God and to one another. Of course, they are monks and go to that same sacred place five times daily. During those services lasting around thirty minutes each, they worship in intentional community, with God and with one another, like an ancient dance, but with words, voice and soul. Daily they encounter God in the face of the person in black sitting across the choir simply because they’ve been willing lay down their souls out of love for God love for neighbor as they bow twice.
Art image: Andrea Mantegna (1431-1506) "Adoration of the Magi"
Monday, February 21, 2011
I wonder whose desk that was,
Now discarded southward, pushed
Years ago over the edge beyond
The broken cement foundation pile
Among rotting sheets of plywood
And construction projects abandoned.
Morning glory and blackberry vines
Race to embrace the fallen furniture,
Creeping quietly into drawers to peek
Into rain-soaked files spilling out,
Half-buried in among the weeds.
I wonder when she sat at this desk,
Whether she ever envisioned mere
Mortality of poorly built pressboard
Mahogany veneered cabinetry now
Forsaken. What letters, verses, memories,
Prayers, laments and loves came pouring
Forth from her fountain pen to page?
What forbidden love, secretly indulged,
Hidden desires or dreams never realized,
Confessed here upon this sacred place,
Now neglected, decaying, abandoned.
I wonder if skeletal remains of
Desks and daughters could converse
What stories they would tell,
What psalms they would chant,
What confessions they would hear,
What dreams they would dream?
The monastic cemetery rests within,
View, fewer than fifty yards away
Cloistered among evergreen trees
Gravestones marching across the grass
In well-ordered simplicity and silence.
If she could arise at midnight and
Walk those few fifty steps westward
To this site, this rejected heap,
And see again this broken form that
Once was her desk, those long years
Of psalms and service, prayers and
Redirected passions, now melted away
As morning mist that once hung heavy
Among gnarled apple trees in the orchard.
I wonder what these two would say
And how they may greet and bow
Before the Christ and each other
Before the Christ and each other
With enduring modesty and grace.
~written by David Robinson
Wednesday, February 16, 2011
Monday, February 14, 2011
con·cres·cence (kən-krĕsˈəns): L concrescentia < concrescere, to grow together < com-,crescere, to grow.
I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. ~Romans 8:18-21
Maybe you too have had the experience of coincidental events meeting within a short time period, such as on the same day, from completely different sources, speaking the same exact truth or insight. I tend to think of such events as "concrescence". Though this world usually refers to biological aspects in nature which grow together, I extend concrescence to include the coming together of similar thoughts, ideas, or themes from separate sources.
For example, last week, in visiting a friend midday, I turned to the passage above, from Romans 8, and read aloud those exact words. We discussed these truths about creation waiting in eager expectation, creation being subjected to transcience, and creation being liberated from bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory in the future. We too are part of this creation. Just a few hours later, 100 miles away, in a completely different setting, at Mount Angel Benedictine Abbey, during the evening Vespers service, I heard those exact words, the first and only words read aloud in that service. Concrescence! Two events growing together, meeting and getting the attention of a mind and heart to encourage me to consider anew the valuable inner truths.
Friday, February 4, 2011
A Sonnet on Anointing
The moon in fullness smiles upon the night,
Among the darkened trees a glimmer shines,
In pleasant places are the boundary lines,
Along the shadowed lane Epiphany’s light.
We’re welcomed in with grace and warmth and tea,
To ponder pains of partings, loss and grief,
To bear another’s burdens brings relief,
We’re lightened singing confitemini.
With invocations, candlelight and song,
The oil of gladness brightening our hearts,
Anointing flows from heaven’s healing arts,
From Bethlehem we join the festive throng.
Your cross and passion Christ to us you bring
Eternal life and healing love to sing.
~David Robinson, January 21, 2011
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
A flapping noise rushed near his feet. He jolted, it was just two sparrows scared off by the rustling of the glowing reeds. Pausing again as his rubber boot suctioned the mud, he gazed into the budding emerald forest. A creek trickled past auburn mud banks eroded from years of flow. Light shone through the ferns sprouting from old fallen alders. Skunk cabbage yielded their yellow shells. The woods smelled of bright green. He came upon the bubbling stream. The sun glinted off the water like off a warped mirror. Chickadees chirped and elderberry were just blooming.
It was spring.