Holy Cross Day
Look at the cross, and pray with Jesus. Look from the various gospel perspectives. [i] There is meaning for each of us today.
With Matthew, remember Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, and Pilate washing his hands.[ii] Remember our own racism, lies, and violence. Acknowledge our power and privilege. Ask how have we have cried “crucify” in word or deed, with inaction or silence. Pray with penitence saying: Forgive us.
With Mark, pray Jesus’ agony—“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—that first line of Psalm 22, which surely Jesus knew.[iii] As a psalm of lament, it goes back and forth from trouble to trust. Pray specifically your pain, hurts, and fear. Then remember back. How have you received love? Cling to past provision as hope in today’s desolation. Pray both trouble and trust.
Amid a year of loss and grief, where we now try to return to school and have fires raging round, much is unsettling and frightening. Remember Elijah, that great prophet of God, who was afraid. Tonight’s passage is between two dramatic scenes. Just prior, there’s the showdown between 850 false prophets and Elijah. Their gods didn’t answer the requests for fire. When Elijah prayed, God sent an astounding, consuming fire.
Elijah tells King Ahab to eat and drink because it’s about to rain after the long drought. When Ahab rides off in his chariot, and Elijah miraculously runs ahead of him. Queen Jezebel soon says: You’ll be dead by tomorrow. Elijah runs again to flee, afraid. Elijah is afraid even though God sent dramatic fire, brought back the rain, enabled him to run ahead, and provided in many previous ways recorded in scripture. Even this great prophet of God who has seen provision quite recently and over a lifetime, gets worn out, doubts, and fears. We do too.
An angel comes twice pointing to food provided in the wilderness. Elijah told Ahab to eat before his journey. Now God provides food for Elijah with similar encouragement. God provides in our deepest struggles, where life is killing us. God provides when we doubt, question, and are afraid, no matter how much we have received before. God provides when we can’t see or imagine how life could get any better, when we’re afraid and tired, and when we’ve lost hope.
Hosea 10:1-3, 12
There is a new fence going up. So far it is just the posts. They are taller and more robust. The perimeter expands further, and—fittingly—it is beautiful. There is a new fence going up at the Monks’ Garden at Emery House. Everything grown there is given away. The first beets were just harvested; 100 pounds will be distributed this week at the Newbury Food Pantry.[i]
The garden is in partnership with Nourishing the North Shore. We provide the land and water. They grow, harvest, and distribute. We also host land for the Organic Community Garden. We Brothers share in Nourishing the North Shore’s mission: “to ensure equal access to healthy, local food to all members of the North Shore communities in a manner that builds community, fosters connection, and promotes dignity and self-reliance.”[ii] Food justice is expanding step by step in further work with local schools and with a bigger garden: mission in action.
A bigger garden could be used for exclusion and greed, to horde and squander. In today’s text, the prophet Hosea shows bad and good images. God’s people were like “a luxuriant vine that yields its fruit.” With more fruit, they built monuments to idols, like self-praise, ignoring God. “Their heart is false … The Lord will break down their altars, and destroy their pillars.”
“Let me hear thee softly speaking;
in my spirit’s ear whisper: ‘I am near.’ …
voice, that oft of love hast told me;
arms, so strong to clasp and hold me;
thou thy watch wilt keep,
Savior, o’er my sleep.”[i]
We have just sung this prayer for sleep and God’s safe-keeping. How is your sleep these days? Many of us are more tired from the stresses of our present suffering: changed work, isolation and separation, the pandemic increasing, so much death and loss, cries of injustice, racism and privilege further exposed. When is change? Where is healing? How do we sleep at a time like this?
Paul in his letter to the Romans acknowledges suffering. In today’s text he speaks of us groaning and not just us but all of creation, groaning as in labor pains, waiting for restoration in a new birth. He also speak of hope, of that which is not seen. What does having hope look like? Especially when we’re groaning, and when it is hard to sleep?
Earlier in chapter 4, Paul wrote about Abraham as one who “hoping against hope … believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’” as God had said, with numerous descendants.[ii] Abraham believed despite overwhelming contrary physical evidence. Abraham was about 100 years old, and Sarah, his wife, was barren. Abraham was “fully convinced that God was able to do as promised.”[iii] Paul quotes Genesis 15 which says Abraham’s faith “‘was reckoned to him as righteousness.’”[iv] Remember what happened at that reckoning?
We Brothers recently spent a few weeks at our rural sanctuary Emery House. I am most alive praying out in woods and fields and by water. I love to go out to the northern bluff and then down to the riverbank, especially at low tide and sunset. I am embarrassed to admit I long ignored stepping over the plastic bottles. My excuses included: “It’s not my problem. This is a big job. I just want to enjoy this place.” Something shifted in me the past few weeks. I brought gloves and bags to collect the bottles. As I began to see anew and more, I carried out rusty barrels, tires, and foam.
Though talking more about caring for the environment this year, it felt distant, both abstract and daunting. What could I really do? Collecting trash on the riverbank opens a connection. This is how I can treasure creation right here. See the beauty and the harm. I stand still to gaze and lament at the scene and admit being part of the problem. I see this as lurking grace, God surprisingly starting to change me.
When grace found me at the riverbank, protests against racial injustice and police brutality began springing up round the country. Something has shifted. We are disturbed. Perhaps the pandemic and our leaders’ varied actions increase pressure or permission for us to act differently. It can be inviting stepping up together. I am uncomfortable and disturbed, feeling more daunted and distant by racism. It’s harder to remain with the discomfort, including not knowing what to do. I am trying to listen and learn more. I appreciate Brené Brown’s podcast “Unlocking Us” especially recent conversations with Austin Channing Brown and Ibram X. Kendi. I find Peter Jarrett-Schell helpful reflecting on being White.
While I am sad these days at sickness, loss, change, murder, and injustice, I am also grateful and hopeful. Grateful for what is shifting in us, in numerous peaceful protests and rippling changes. Grateful for what is shifting in me, for surprising invitations, practical steps, and provocative voices. Hopeful because these are glimpses of divine activity echoing past experience. Jesus keeps bringing light especially where we are blind, bound in narrow perspectives, unaware of history or the impact our actions.
Each sunrise and sunset reminds me of God’s loving gaze now and steadfast presence over generations. I sense the Spirit breathing in and through us. I hear an invitation to keep returning to riverbank, going to be refreshed and going with gloves in hand to refresh that treasure. I am also invited to listen to Black voices and reflect on being White, seeking to remain with discomfort.
What has surprised you? What is shifting? What is God’s invitation for you?
We Brothers pray for you and are grateful for your sustaining friendship.
May you be surprised and empowered today with the Spirit’s lurking grace.
When you ask a monk a question, ask another and you may get a very different answer. It’s clear the fourteen of us – or even just a few – have a whole lot to say and many perspectives. We began with a long list of topics to discuss and from the start we had much to share.
We are so grateful to work with Jay Vogt, our organizational consultant and facilitator, this year. From our varied topics and desires, Jay created an overall scheme for the year and worked with a team of Brothers to plan the sessions. As more thoughts and desires emerged through the year, Jay kept adapting. Referring to our past intentions, the planned scheme for the year, and discoveries from recent discussions, he gave options for where we could go next. Jay prompted next steps and helped us proceed. He organized and facilitated sessions, keeping us all involved.
In this season of staying at home, what might it look to take time to stop, be still, and listen to God? What might it be like to take a retreat at home? The added work and stress of these days may mean brief respite for some while others seek meaningful ways to use their time. Realizing we have different capacities, here are a few ideas to consider.
If stopping at all seems overwhelming yet desired, consider something small, a short pause. Susanna Wesley—the mother of Methodism—had ten children including John and Charles. Susanna couldn’t get away. She would sit or kneel in the kitchen, sometimes for ten minutes, and pull her apron up over her head. The children were still all about, but everyone knew not to interrupt when the apron was up because she was praying.
Perhaps it’s not an apron. Maybe putting on a particular jacket or hat or shawl could symbolize to your family and to yourself—I am stopping now to pray for ten minutes, even in a room with others. Perhaps you have the ability to go into a room or a closet for a time. Perhaps you could hang something on the door to show—I am in here now to pray. What would it take for you take ten minutes a couple times a day? Could you schedule a day off from most of your usual routine? If so, what would you reduce? To what extent, in what space, or during what time could you be uninterrupted?
Besides time and space, try doing one thing in order to slow down. Turn off your devices. Whether standing, sitting, or dancing, just do that. When eating or drinking, savor the flavor. When something catches your eye, stop and gaze at it. Perhaps a picture or the sunlight or a shadow. Gaze to really see it. Perhaps get closer or see how it or your perception changes with time. Sleep, savoring, and gazing help us slow down to pay attention and be still with God.
Exercise and gentle movement enliven and refresh. Take deep breaths, and exhale with sighs. Stretch your arms up and out. Swing your arms, your legs, and what you sit on. Imagine you are tossing paint at the ceiling and like throwing or hitting. Try some slow, gentle movements, as if you are seaweed swaying in the ocean. Stop and be still. Take deep breaths, and exhale with signs. Put on music and move as you can, fast and slow, energetic and calm. Dance for an audience of one. Afterward, notice what you feel in your body.
Silence helps us hear what is present now. Shared silence still creates community. Retreat may something to share with those with whom you live. What would it be like to share intentional silence together? Perhaps you could choose to not talk, not listen to music, not watch devices, and still be together. Create a beautiful center, perhaps a candle or flower or image, and do your own reading, journaling, gazing, and praying. Then reflect about the experience together and name your gratitude. I know some housemates who tried this for a season. They doubted the idea but found it doable and refreshing. This practice might be as regular as a weekly Sabbath or a monthly or quarterly retreat.
On retreat, pray as you already do, in whatever form is already familiar: with or without words, eyes open or closed, standing, sitting, kneeling, in another shape, or moving. Pray with scripture. Read a short text slowly a few times and notice what phrase or word stands out. Hold it gently and listen for an invitation. That may be by drawing and coloring it. Take a psalm and write it in your own words, or use it to journal. When have you felt this way? How does your current life connect with these words? You might also pray without words. Sit in silence gazing a candle or focus of beauty. Sit in adoration at the One who is already gazing with love at you. Set a few times to pray through the day. Do what you know, and try something different.
Retreat, and any particular retreat, may take many forms and locations. How to begin? First, consider what time, space, activity and even clothing distinguishes and defines it.
- What could you claim to calm and refresh?
- What helps you slow down, rest, and listen?
- Where do you feel safe and secure?
- What invites you to encounter and struggle with God?
- What prompts thinking deeply?
The location, time, or practice itself doesn’t matter. What’s important is choosing to stop and spend time to be attentive, listen, and pray. What would you stop, and what would help you stop? What would support you in putting aside your daily work and routines in order to focus on prayer? How would companionship help or hinder you either in the planning, provision, or experience of retreat?
Start small. Be creative. There is no right way. Be gentle with yourself. You are worth it. God is present here at home with you, and delights in time turned toward each together.
We never thought today would be like this, never considered we could lose so much. Death keeps shattering us, our plans and expectations with loss upon loss. Everything is upended. We are sad, so sad at all that has happened and is happening. It is confusing. Life is so strange. Things don’t make sense anymore. What in the world happens next?
Two companions are talking this way on the road to Emmaus, sharing grief. They talk of Jesus, their friend, whom they expected would save them, but who was betrayed, killed, and buried. There is talk of the body missing, and people supposedly seeing angels.
We are talking this way, talking much of our grief at so much death and loss. Talking of we have lost or fear losing: loved ones, health, employment, plans, and direction. The disorientation of life upended: staying at home, now all the time with the same people or so starkly alone, of aching added work or loss of work, with little idea what’s next or when this will change.
As the two walk to Emmaus, Jesus comes and walks alongside. They don’t recognize the one whom they most love and grieve. He is a stranger to them. Jesus asks about their conversation, sees and hears their sadness, and then shares about his own suffering, talking through scripture.
God, help me. Come quickly. “O Lord, make haste to help me,” cries the Psalmist. “Let those who seek after my life be ashamed. … I am poor and needy.” Don’t delay. “You are my helper.” The psalmist pleads, protests what is wrong, and trusts. You are my helper. You are my God.
About half of the psalms are laments. Lament is a cry of pain, a cry for help, and a cry of trust. Lament is stark and boldly real about pain and suffering, and it assumes being heard. Tonight we will chant Tenebrae, a service of shadows, with lament psalms and haunting solos from Lamentations about people abandoned, isolated, cut-off, and grieving. Though we chant psalms like these all year, tonight they come together in a particular prayer for Holy Week. Jesus was troubled in spirit, and so are we, especially now. The Surgeon General said this may be the “hardest and saddest week” for our country.[i]
No one covers a lamp with a basket or puts it under a bed, says Jesus. Hiding a lamp makes it ineffective. A lamp is made to share light, to be out in the open so others may see. Matthew adds: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”[i] We are made to shine, to illuminate, to point people to God, not hiding or keeping to ourselves.
Yesterday in the text preceding this we heard a parable.[ii] Like the wild sower, God is recklessly generous, scattering seed everywhere, including where there is little chance of bearing fruit. Like the different soils, we vary in our receptivity, while God keeps loving, generously sharing.
To receive such generosity and to share it means being vulnerable—risky, emotional, exposed—and this is how we are created to be. Fear and shame prompt hiding or hording. Jesus says as a lamp is for a room, we are to receive, be seen, and shine.