That headline stopped me in my tracks.
Whatever else this moment is, what if it might be our “monastic moment”? What if “healthy at home” can be more than a pandemic precaution, but an opportunity for something more.
No, this isn’t the shallow cheer leading that suggests we should learn a new language, master a new skill, or build something new with a zealous discipline and loads of “free time.” This invitation is not an invitation to control, mastery, or accomplishment…
It’s all some of us can do to stay sane and survive right now–parenting, teaching, working, maneuvering through unemployment, problem-solving hair-care and all constrained to the limits of a house that feels smaller by the day.
It’s all some of us can do to keep from anxious restlessness, searching for something meaningful beyond the hum of cable news coverage and the alerts of social media feeds.
It’s all some of us can do to stay above the tides of grief with so much loss: graduations, trips, income, loved ones…
And yet not only in the midst of the monotony, mayhem and mourning, but precisely because of it there remains a life-changing invitation: mimic the monks who know our current constraints well and who choose to carefully tend the quiet center where God unfolds hope, joy, and peace from our inescapably intertwined, fragile existence.
I’ve been wanting to get to Gethsemani Abby for a silent retreat for some time now–long before the onset of the coronavirus. Of course, my spiritual director is quick to remind me that such a retreat will not be easy. After the first few hours or even the first day of walking the grounds, checking out the library, attending prayer, hiking the trails… then the hard work sets in. A lot of people choose to leave after the first night. Once the novelty wears off, then all we are left with is ourselves and our insatiable drive to do, make, and accomplish… and distract ourselves from our ultimate powerlessness.
What if the monastic retreat I’ve yet to schedule is now at my door?
Here’s what the monastic community suggests, “we can use this moment to live into and be freed by the realization that there is much we cannot control. So much of our anxiety revolves around wanting to control the uncontrollable, and the pandemic can teach us the futility of this.”
I want to order my world, to operate in a predictable normal, to see the future clearly and prepare for it. There is just so much that is uncertain. Within me is a “rage for order” and the world is wildly dis-ordered.
But perhaps that is always true in ways I’ve let slip by.
Father Mark, the abbot of a Midwestern Cistercian monastery, offers this monastic challenge, “If I can concentrate on being in control of that very small circle of reality that is entrusted to me and in some sense depends on me—how I use my time, how I take care of myself, how I care for my family and friends, how I daily and hourly turn my concerns over to God—then my anxiety diminishes.”
We may not have chosen this monastic moment, and yet it is there for us–all of us–to pause our rage for world order, to settle into a sacred simplicity of a well-ordered soul, to finally feel the inescapable fragility, and to listen carefully for God’s steadfast, gentle, freeing voice.
See you (digitally) Sunday,
PS – I hope to see you this Sunday. You are invited for communion at 11:30 AM. (Follow the directions here). And if you’d like to join a Sunday School by zoom, let me know. I’d be happy to connect you to one of the different groups meeting weekly for conversation and holy connection–one is doing “lectio divina“, another is studying and discussing the scripture passage for the week.
Worship each week with a digital liturgy: pause, pray, sing, reflect, and reconnect.
Digital liturgy is posted each weekend to South Elkhorn’s website and premiers on South Elkhorn’s Facebook page at 10:30AM on Sunday.