Many years ago, I went to visit a Benedictine monastery and lost my heart. I’ve written about that house of God before on this blog (posted pictures, even). I went at a challenging time in my life, with no idea what to expect, and I found there welcome, peace, safety of body and of heart, a chapel whose doors were open to the deeply faithful and the confused alike, a community of men who knew how to laugh and to pray deeply, and who might have said there was not much difference between the two. I was so moved by the experience that (many visits later) I took vows as an Associate, a person living outside of a monastic community who nonetheless tries to abide by the principles laid out in the Rule of St. Benedict.
When I came to DC, I joined a “Benedictine cell,” a group of people who meet monthly to learn from and discuss the Rule. Monday, our group was reading chapters 12 and 13, which discuss which psalms to pray first thing in the morning. It’s not a riveting chapter, but it does lay out a progression: each morning, the psalms selected begin in our own need and incompleteness, move us through a conscious turning toward God, and end with an exalted song of praise and adoration.
It is a powerful progression, recapitulating the whole of our spiritual lives; I was reminded of it this morning, when the St. Alban’s community gathered for morning prayer. The situation with Syria lay heavy on our hearts; one person even commented, before the service, that he had never felt so dejected about the state of the world. And our readings began with the apostasy of an ancient Israeli king and moved, by grace, into the Resurrection of Christ. On the first day of the week, before dawn, the women went to the tomb, bearing spices so that they could embalm the body of Jesus. And as they went — wondering who would roll aside the huge stone from the door of the tomb — they came and found the tomb already opened, and a man dressed in shining white telling them that Jesus had already gone ahead of them to Galilee. Mark ends his account, “they went out and fled from the tomb; for trembling and astonishment had come upon them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.”
It is an unsatisfying place to end a Gospel, not least because it’s not the end of the story. Biblical scholar John Fenton believed that was the point: the Gospel does not end with the actions of Jesus’ first disciples; rather, it finds its consummation in the lives of the worshippers who are gathered to listen to it, for it is in us, the living body of Christ, that the Resurrection is fulfilled.
If that is true, then our times of dejection, frustration, and of feeling utterly helpless may be our times of crucial insight. When the women went to the tomb, they went out into the dark and walked a road of failure. They carried with them spices to lay their hope to rest. They knew there were significant obstacles to doing even that (that heavy stone again). But when they arrived, they learned that God had already gone before them, and they were told God always would.
The thing is, if they had not walked out into the darkness, they never would have seen it. What mattered was not their chance of “success” (they believed they had none); it was their faithfulness in honoring the bonds of love, even when that seemed utterly futile. T. S. Eliot puts it like this:I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
In the end, we have only our faithfulness. But in the mercy of Christ, that is enough. Not enough for us, perhaps, but enough for God: the yeast that leavens a whole loaf; the tiny seed that grows like rampant weed; the crack that lets in the light, one scant ray at a time.
Almighty God, we remember before you this day the men and women who perished in the attacks eleven years ago, and those who love them. We remember the policemen, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, and chaplains who came to their aid, many of whom themselves became ill from breathing the dust of that wreckage. We remember the generosity of so many volunteers, whose small acts of kindness endured longer than the twisted steel of the towers. We remember, too, your promise of a world without death, without pain, without grief, without war. We pray that it may come in our time, but if not in ours, at least in Yours, for You are the Lord of Time and of Eternity. Amen.
If you’d like to read the Rule of St. Benedict, you can find it here: http://www.osb.org/rb/text/toc.html#toc.
If you’d like to find a Benedictine cell, you can begin here: http://www.benedictfriend.org/article/30/the-benedictine-way/benedictine-gatherings
If you’d like to read about light coming in to people and places that are broken, try Ordinary Resurrections, by Jonathan Kozol.