This last week, in preparation for our 18th annual Celtic retreat, I have been rereading Henri Nowen‘s The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery. It has profoundly impacted me as I have read about the seven months that he spent in a Trappist monastery. I have read it in conjunction with another compelling book Cloister Talks by Jon Sweeney which I intend to write a review of tomorrow.
Here are a couple of passages I found particularly convicting. First this passage when early in his sabbatical Nouwen is grappling with how to make the works of his hands into a prayer and reinterpret everything in the light of what it means to live fully to the glory of God.
…living for the glory of God would make everything different. Even living for each other would then be living for the glory of God. It is God’s glory that becomes visible in a loving community. … When we indeed participate in the life of God we will always discover more of God’s mystery in each other. John Eudes described heaven as the ongoing discovery of God’s mystery by living in the most intimate presence of God and each other. The Christian life on earth is simply the beginning of this heavenly existence. (p29)
My main problem is that I have not really made prayer my priority. … much of what I am doing is motivated by many other concerns: getting back in shape, learning some manual skills, knowing more about birds and trees, getting to know interesting people… and picking up many ideas and experiences for future teaching. But if prayer were my only concern, all these other laudable things could be received as free gifts. Now, however, I am obsessed by these desires which are false, not in themselves but by their being in the wrong place in the heirarchy. (p42)
As I read this section I realized how much of what I do is with mixed motives. It is easy to say that I want to live to the glory of God and that everything I do is done to please God, yet underneath I am aware that so much of what I do is really done to please myself. I grapple with the same concerns that Nouwen does – the desire to be noticed and thought well of, the desire to be fulfilled in what I do, and even the desire to be comfortable. If I am honest I realize how easily these things can move my focus away from God and onto myself.
Even prayer can easily become self focused as I ask God for things that would make my own life easier. Healing for those I love that sometimes make my life difficult, financial provision in the midst of recession, my need for an administrative assistant, even my prayer for God to end poverty and bring justice in the world can be because I want to live in a world that is more comfortable.
The other section I found extremely compelling is this on the monastic rhythm of life. It is easy for us to see the monastic rhythm as a monotonous repetitive rhythm but listen to the way that Nouwen describes it
One of the things a monastery like this does for you is give you a new rhythm, a sacred rhythm… It seems as if I am being slowly lifted up from the gray dull, somewhat monotonous, secular time cycle into a very colourful rich sequence of events in which solemnity and playfulness, joy and grief, seriousness and lightness take each other’s place off and on…
You see and feel that the monastic day, week and year are meant to be time-bound anticipations of a heavenly existence. Already you are invited to participate in the intimate life of the Holy trinity, Father ,Son and Spirit, and be joyful because of those who came so close to God in their historical existence that they have a special place in the heavenly kingdom. So contemplation is indeed a beginning of what is to be fulfilled in the resurrection.
As you know I have spent a lot of time thinking about what the rhythms of God’s kingdom will look like and am more convinced than ever that the frenetic pace of our secular world is nothing like what God intends. We are meant to be counter cultural people with counter cultural rhythms and I think that the monastic rhythm of prayer, study work and rest is much more like the rhythm of God’s kingdom than the way most of us live.
Out of my contemplation of these passages has come another prayer
God enter the emptiness of our hearts
Restore us, renew us, refresh us
Come into the dry and thirsty places of our lives
Fill us, transform us, dwell within us
Reveal your love in the empty spaces of our souls
Convert our loneliness to solitude
Turn our busyness into obedience
Replace our self centred idols with faithfulness
Open within us a place where you can dwell
Love through us, live through us, glorify yourself