Prologue: I few weeks ago I wrote about “The Watcher.” I was grappling with the idea of how the creator is intent upon us, watching us, trying to be a part of our lives without shoving aside our free will.
I noted how Job felt this intense observation and it made him squirm:
“I Loathe my life: I would not live forever. Let me alone, for my days are a breath. What are human beings that You make so much of them, that You set Your mind on them, visit them every morning, test them every moment? Will You not look away from me for a while, let me alone until I swallow my own spittle?” --Job 7:16-19
It is interesting to note the similarities of this passage and a passage from the psalms:
". . .What is man, that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that Thou visitest him? --Psalm 8:4
Job regularly set aside time for prayer (something that is a true blessing). Today’s posting is about a group of men who do that regularly, and what it was like slipping into the shadows to be a quiet part of it.
T. approached me briskly, a little excitement showing in his voice.
“Did you get my email?”
I mumbled some reply about not getting home yet. (I had been in the prayer room.) Something had been growing in my heart and I wasn’t sure about it.
T. asked if I would like to hear a “wild” idea. He invited me to go to the trappist monastery on Friday, early in the morning.
Flattered that he would ask, interested in the experience, and a little amused that this wild idea was nothing more unusual than getting up a little early, I said “sure!”
I’ve been trying to formulate what I felt about Lent this year. Perhaps I was trying too hard to make it mean something special, but I don’t think so. I’ve been feeling a sense that something was coming, something special. Last year I gave up a habit, but more importantly I had reflected over and over about our LORD’s sacrifice. It had been very meaningful. The year prior had also been special. What might I expect this year?
I had trouble sleeping that night (last night). I laid my clothes out on a chair in the dining room and set the alarm for 2:45. I woke up to the alarm and shut it off. I lay still for a moment, wondering if I had awakened Brenda. I sat up slowly and reached for my glasses to see the clock. It was 12:30. It wasn’t the alarm that woke me. It was a dream of the alarm going off. I smiled at myself. I used to do this to myself when my dad was letting me go with him to work. I laid back down, prayed a little bit and went back to sleep.
I woke up suddenly, fully awake. It was 2:30. I crept out of bed and turned the alarm off, a little pleased that I hadn’t awakened Brenda. I made some coffee and slipped into the shower.
T. arrived a little early. I think he was as excited about our expedition as I was.
The drive was quiet. He drove smoothly under the nearly full moon and I filled in the gaps in conversation (when I remembered to), falling into the habit/obligation of the role of a passenger as I had done 30 years ago when I was a wandering hitchhiker.
The moon has always been important to me. It was there, teaching me about perspectives and the distances of the real world when I rode with my dad before I was old enough for school. It was there when I hiked the John Muir Trail in my early adulthood. It was there when the LORD told me how much he cared for me when my first child had died. Last night it was there again, growing yellow as it glided along with us toward the west.
We found our way into the sanctuary. It was dark. There was a monk sitting not too far away from us, barely bathed in the light of a candle nearby. I watched my step carefully, I felt like I was intruding on his solitude.
As my eyes adjusted I noticed a few other monks.
A few minutes later more came in. Soft lights were switched on. Soon a steady stream of monks entered, none even glanced at us. I felt reassured that I was not intruding. Their internal focus didn’t permit it. Some had obviously just awoken. Some of the later ones did their crossing and bowing quickly, and slid into their places.
I felt warm, comfortable. It didn’t matter my brand of faith. It didn’t matter what my life. I was here, and so was the LORD. I felt the sense that something was coming, something important.
The muslims think of Christians as polytheists. That we worship three gods. Absurd or course. But still, I can see how they might get that idea. What an unusual idea, the trinity. A creator with three sides, three faces, three forms, one reality. A being able to create the universe, in all its complexities (quarks, sub-atomics, atoms, molecules, organisms, worlds, galaxies. . .) and yet so simple. Simply beautiful. As simple as the beauty of the moon.
This all powerful being, capable of anything except sin, and interested in ME. A triune God. . . .seeing through space, through time, through me. What did HE look like? Of course I can only think in terms of metaphor. Jesus looks like me. The Holy Spirit looks like a dove. God the Father looks like. . . no, not like that. Not the patriarch of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam. Not a burning bush, or a pillar of fire, or anything my mind can conceive.
(And the LORD said, "I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the LORD , in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But," he said, "you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.")
I felt the LORD. He is love. He cares for me. he looks like nothing I can imagine, and he looks like all the wonderful things that make my heart lift. He is the red sunrise shouting in crimson and orange and yellow. He is the intersection of the peaks along Bear Tooth Pass and the brilliant blue of a winter sky. He is the spark of wonder in an infant’s eyes.
The monks came to the end of their prayers. I was a little disappointed that it had ended so soon.
T. and I made a little small talk on the way back, small talk tinged with a little more meaning than the chat we had on the way there.
What is unique about human beings? How does our experience lend texture to our responses to God? Does it please Him to have us grow in such slow ways, in all our failings?
I looked at T.
“We are unique of all the creatures on this planet. Despite our animal natures we have something in us that is also divine. You never see a dog enjoying a rainbow.”
“That’ll preach,” he said.
"What a piece of work is man! how noble in reason! how infinite in faculty! in form and moving how express and admirable! in action how like an angel! in apprehension how like a god! the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals! ". --Hamlet: Act II, Scene II
Thank you LORD for how you have made me. I am wondrously made. Please forgive my pride for the gifts You have bestowed and teach me to always be Your servant.
Post script: It turns out that it was a very interesting year after all (see previous posts). I believe that the feeling I had for earnest prayer was a subtle encouragement for me to prepare my heart for what was coming. If you have any questions regarding any of the ideas here, please feel free to ask away. I am your servant as well.