Feast of the Holy Cross
The cross is everywhere. The geometric figure of a horizontal and vertical line intersecting one another is an archetypal form, noticed in nature and reproduced by hand by most humans in most cultures. But I am referring only to the cross we know best, in all its stylistic and material variety. Picture in your mind’s eye simply two or three of the probably hundreds of crosses you have seen in your life. I immediately think of the plain wooden cross above the pulpit in the Baptist church of my childhood, the garish crucifix that hung over the temperamental photocopier in the Roman Catholic high school where I taught theology, and a simple brass cross with a tree in the center, a gift from my mom when I told her I might want to become a monk. In flea markets, Bible outlets, laser light shows, ancient catacombs, and war memorials; as two sticks tied together on the corrugated aluminum walls of a shack in Jamaica or Colombia or India or Louisiana; as a gilded masterpiece commissioned by royalty and venerated by pilgrims in Rome or Jerusalem or Canterbury; in polished mahogany, in precious stones, in welded scrap metal, in glow-in-the-dark plastic: the cross is everywhere.
Whenever a man expresses an interest in our life, David, who is the novice guardian, invites him to make a few visits to us here to the monastery. Over these visits he gets to know us, and we him. During those visits, he has a brief experience of our life. He joins us for the Offices and the Eucharist, shares in some of the household chores that need to be done to keep this place running, and is invited for countless walks along the river or endless cups of tea, so that individual brothers can have a conversation with him.
For a number of years now, when it is my turn to have a conversation with a prospective member of the community, I ask him the usual questions. Where is he from? What does he do? How did he find us? What is he looking for? I wait for him to ask me questions. Eventually I ask him the one question, indeed really the only question that I am interested in. I ask him if he has ever fallen in love before. For whatever reason, most men, when I ask that question are completely taken aback. It is not a question they are expecting. But for me the question, or in truth the answer, is essential.
Now, just to be clear, I am not interested in the ins and outs of his love life. I don’t want to know the gory details of his romances. I just want to know if he has ever fallen in love and what that experience was like for him.