During the month of August, while the Chapel is closed, we are reposting sermons that we hope will inspire you to embrace play, silence, and recreation. The Chapel will reopen on Tuesday, August 30, 2016.
It is so good to be back again, worshiping in this lovely place, after our time away of retreat and community discussions. And it is so good to see you all again. I do hope you have had a great summer – a time for rest and refreshment.
We had a wonderful retreat. To spend those days amidst the natural beauty of Emery House was a great gift. Certainly for me, and I know other Brothers, it was an occasion to deepen our contemplative vision. In the Letter to the Hebrews which was read this morning, verse 14 says, “For here we have no abiding city, but we are looking for a city that is to come.” And I think that’s really what the contemplative vision is all about. It is about seeing with the eyes of faith; seeing that this life which we have is not the only reality. When our contemplative vision grows, we see that the apparently ordinary things of life are shot through with the glory of God. Spending time on retreat is a wonderful opportunity to really see again heaven breaking through – or as William Blake put it, “to see the world in a grain of sand, and to see heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hands, and eternity in an hour.”
In July 2011, our brother Tom and I spent a few days in Rome. In many ways, the highlight of our visit was the pilgrimage we made, deep underground, into the Christian catacombs. I remember it was a very hot day, but as we walked down and down, through the intricate labyrinth of tunnels, the temperature plummeted. I remember shivering with cold, but also with awe. We were on holy ground, for on each side of the tunnels were recesses for burial chambers. Here, in the very first centuries after Christ, Christians buried their dead. As my eyes slowly got used to the dim light I began to see that the walls were covered with a plethora of beautiful colored frescoes.
“How do you recruit new monks?”someone asked me the other day. The answer is: we don’t recruit new members of the community. We make ourselves known – on the internet – but I would never encourage a man to come as a postulant. In fact, I often try to put people off! It’s really important, that if someone wants to join the community they have to ask – and maybe ask several times, before we say yes.
Over the last several weeks I have been busy building raised garden beds. If you have been to Emery House, you may have seen them, or even inspected them. In one I have spinach and beets, in another lettuce, radishes and carrots. In a couple of smaller ones I have planted potato onions, shallots and Egyptian Walking Onions (now isn’t that a great name!). Last week I transplanted the creeping oregano into one and one of the guests carefully transplanted most of the perennial onions into another.
Today we remember St. Joseph. We are celebrating his feast day liturgically, but the sermon this evening is the last installment in our Lenten preaching series on prayer. I’ll be talking about praying with sacred texts. St. Joseph, being a very humble man, would surely approve. You are all invited, by the way, to join the Brothers in the undercroft following the service for soup and conversation with the preacher.
Praying with sacred texts. There haven’t always been sacred texts; there haven’t always been texts, or even words. It took a long time for there to be such things –roughly 13.77 billion years. God’s creation seems to have been wordless for all but the last 100,000 years or so, depending on who you ask (a mere blink of the eye). Written texts are not much more than 5,000 years old. The oldest texts that we think of as sacred are only about 3,000 years old—practically just yesterday.
When I was in my teens, I hated going to church. I thought Christianity was very unsophisticated – and I preferred exploring the rather more exotic religions of the East. They seemed infinitely more cool than church!
But on one of the occasions when my poor parents managed to get me to go to our local parish church, I heard something read which stopped me in my tracks. It was today’s gospel: the story of the Prodigal Son. It was the father in the story who caught my attention.
We all know the story, and my bet is that at one time or another we have all acted it out in our life. We have been that son or daughter who has squandered our inheritance away in dissolute living. We have been the envious and sullen elder sibling, resentful of the attention lavished on the returned prodigal. Perhaps we have even been the loving and generous parent spending our time hoping against hope and scanning the horizon for the return of the one who was thought to be lost. Perhaps at different times we have been different characters in the parable. Perhaps we have even been all three at the same time.
In the part of the Sermon on the Mount read as today’s Gospel Jesus tells us that perseverance in prayer is important. Keep on asking, keep on searching, and keep on knocking. Keep asking and that for which you seek will become clearer. Keep searching and the way to find what you seek will be understood. Keep knocking and the door through which you can find the goal of your search will be opened for you.