Day Five: Clear Creek Monastery

We got to sleep in today. First service did not begin until 5:15 a.m. I was determined to follow along properly today, so I arrived ten minutes early and set my books for Vespers and Lauds. (The attentive student has just done a face palm.) We were ten minutes into the service, me desperately trying to figure out where the heck we were, when it hits me: Vespers is the night prayer. I needed to be set for Mattins and Lauds. It was then impossible for me to follow along with Mattins, because I didn’t even have the right book! Oy. (Again: note to self—remember what it must be like for those who come to the Episcopal Church for the first time.)

I have used the analogy to explain many different things, but it holds true here as well: learning to pray with the monks is like learning to pray the Rosary. At first you’re just trying to figure out the mechanics of it all (which bead is what and who’s on first) then learn the prayers, then put the two of those together, then—maybe—actually begin to worship. It is a complicated process. I keep kicking myself because I can’t seem to manage a full service, but honestly, I’m still on the first bead and trying to find my place on the page. Is Ok.

I know a fella who wanted to go for a walk with Mary. But on this day, when he found her along the way, she was not wanting to walk… she wanted to dance. She took both his hands in hers and like children, they danced in great skipping circles. They smiled, then they began to laugh. (The fella came close to laughing out loud and disturbing his neighbors!) Jesus joined them. Mary was on his right and the fella was on his left. All three holding hands in a circle. They danced, but after awhile, Mary left the two alone and the fella and Jesus sat in the long green grass. When he looked in Jesus’ eyes, the fella confessed his sins. Fully aware that the Lord knows all before he spoke, it was still difficult to say it all. The Lord heard his cry, he was forgiven, but the battle must continue. The fella does not like this battle, but…

I preached on the pearl of great worth a few Sundays back. Bishop Robert Barron believes that this pearl is the imago Dei within each of us and that when we discover God’s image that we were created in, then we will give up everything in order to attain it… to be restored to it. I keep thinking, in order to get to it, we must first find the oyster, crack through a hard outer shell, get through a good bit of messy stuff, and then… Occasionally, God will give us glimpses of the pearl. It is worth the search.

I’m hungry… prayers then lunch.

Hugh O’Donald (sp) was crowned King, so the Queen was not knocked about the head and neck too badly today during lunch. As they are still fighting (arguing at this point) I somehow doubt the peace will last.

Interesting that this battle should be raging as I have been reading about the parameters of “just war” as set forth by Thomas Aquinas. Jus ad bella (reasons behind a just war), jus in bella (morals while in war), and in the middle the “double effect” (the search for the intent, allowing that some evil / bad (accidents) may come through the seeking of a greater good (essence))…. I believe I have that right.

The “intent” is something that we have discussed a number of times and in discovering the intent we discover the sinfulness / righteousness of an action and to what degree. If you are speeding: were you speeding just for the heck of it, regardless of the law; or were you speeding while rushing to get someone to the hospital to save their life? The intent of the first is sinful, while the intent of the second—double effect—was to save a life even though a law was broken. Clear as mud? Good.

We studied these things in seminary, but seminary is like drinking from a fire hydrant… for three years. Some of it sticks, some of it makes an impression (the details all lost), and some… well I’m still finding things in the Bible that I would swear were not there the day before. The study and implications of GOD are without end.

May the Lord our God bless you all.

Day Four: Clear Creek Monastery

I should have kept my mouth shut, for my boasting yesterday (stating that I was catching on to the flow of the service) came back and bit me today. Two and a half hours of prayer this morning and I couldn’t tell you a word that was said! Got lost on the opening sentence and never found my way back into the service. And cheers to having the service in the vernacular!! I know the fellas don’t much care for our favorite Queen, but thank you Elizabeth and all the rest for insisting on the language of the service be the language of the people. Even though I did not understand, I felt the service did my soul good, but how much more so if I had been able to truly read / hear the very words of God. This is NOT a knock against what they do here, for Latin is their language for worshiping the One True God. For some, worshipping in Latin may be a source of pride, but not for the fellas here; it is simply who they are. You will not even be considered for admittance to this monastery until you are able to read, write, and speak Latin.

Off to Sext (early afternoon prayers). More later.

One thing that I’ve known about myself is that I am a Pharisee… to the core. I like my phylacteries long, the good seats, my Mazda, AC set at dang near freezing, 18 year old scotch, a comfortable chair, a kitten sleeping on my face… One thing that I’ve known about myself is that I am spoiled. There I’ve said it and confessed it. I’m not entirely sure what to do about it and I’m not entirely sure that I would follow through in doing it if I did. For these and all my other sins for which I do not now remember…

The brothers are very quiet. Very little talking, but yesterday, as I was walking the halls, I encountered just about all of them. They were filing outdoors, two-by-two, chattering and laughing like a bunch of school kids. I do not know their private schedule, but I’m guessing this was a Sunday afternoon treat where (if they had any… I’m one to talk) they were letting their hair down. It was a joy to see this side of them and to know that behind the discipline and obedience to the rule, they are ‘regular folks’ who want to connect with others and be… heard? Today, all of their free time has been consumed with Latin class (I guess you can never learn enough of that one!)

Now, about Queen Elizabeth: we continue the lunchtime reading of this dark woman and the atrocities she committed against the Irish. “Father forgive me…”, but I must say, I find myself sitting at lunch getting defensive! The Blessed Virgin Mary is my Mother and my Queen, but I want to set these boys straight on some of their history, particularly about our Elizabeth. I mean seriously, who was it that “took a bath”, the English or the Spanish Armada? Take that! (If any of them are reading this, I may not make it out of here alive. If I am simply taken hostage, do not pay the ransom. We shall not satisfy their thirst for blood or coin!…. now he’s just being silly.)

Reading: Interpreting Jesus by N.T. Wright, a brief overview of Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologica, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah, and Four Past Midnight by Stephen King. “One of these things is not like the other…”

I need to get started on the Sunday sermon… I have an idea.

Staying unplugged for even a day is trying, which means it is a good thing; however, I do check my text messages once a day for a message from the Cat Resort, because they send me a daily picture of the other Queen in my life. Yeah… she’s cute! In the process of looking for this message, I saw an email come through which I could not resist…

As some of you know, I have been accepted to begin my studies with the Anglican Order of Preachers (aka: The Dominicans) and the reading list for the first term arrived today. Not too heavy, not too lite. Definitely looking forward to it. This is a three year process. More on that at another time, but I’ll be posting about it all the way through.

I pray you are well. Pray for me a sinner.

Shadow selfie…

Day Three: Clear Creek Monastery

I made it through Mattins, Lauds, Low Masses, Prime, breakfast, and… two hour nap. My goodness these fellas can pray. Today it all started with a 4 a.m. alarm and we were in the pews by 4:50 a.m. Mattins on Sunday is especially long with at least fifteen to twenty Psalms recited (I’ll have to count them up).

I actually did much better at keeping up with the service. I pace myself reading the English version while listening to the monks chant. I did get a bit lost in the Third Nocturn of Mattins (we were about an hour and a half in at that point), so I finished reading the English and then sat back and let the chanting sweep over me. You would think that the chanting would put you to sleep, but there is a ‘hum’ to it that enters the body and soul. Not irritating… somehow narrows and focuses the mind.

Prior to Mattins, I read Book One, Chapter Eighteen of The Imitation of Christ: the Examples of the Holy Fathers. A part of which reads: Oh, how great was the fervor of all religious in the beginning of their holy institution! Oh, how great was their devotion in prayer! How great their zeal for virtue! What great discipline was in force among them! What great reverence and obedience in all, flourished under the rule of a superior!

I am not so naive as to think that these fellas are perfect or that they don’t struggle with the same daily issues as the rest of us. It is just that they are outward and visible signs of intentional obedience to God’s commands and it is fascinating to witness. For example, they sit in the choir so we see all the movements. Early in the morning, the younger members’ heads bob up and down trying to stay awake, and when any makes a mistake (whether in pronunciation of the Latin, chanting a wrong verse, moving at the wrong time) the individual monk will stop, step forward, and briefly kneel as an act of penance. Is pronouncing instificationibus a sin? Lord, I pray not!, but for them, they missed the mark—“He who aims for the stars shoots higher than he who aims for the trees.” I believe many aim for the stars… I know that many of you do, perhaps its just that we’ve got different constellations we’re shooting at.

Sunday… there was meat for lunch!

I went for that walk with her today. (I’ll work on my handwriting.)

The I become Him

The we become You

The circles are not rippling out, but in. We must pass through the excess, the noise, the ego…. so that we become Him. As I (we) individually become [in] Him (Jesus), then corporately (we) become You (plural / Holy Trinity). We have lost our focus. I’ll work on the sermon version (give you a heads up as to when I’m planning to preach it so that you can stay home.)

There wasn’t a place to add this above, but I wanted to mention the soup we had last night for supper. It was cold milk. Milk served in a soup pot and ladled into soup bowls. Yep. Milk. Trust me: I had a few Dots Pretzels when I got back to my room.

These are the icons in four of the side altars. The other four altars are windows:

Following None (the 3:00 p.m. time of prayer), there was Benediction of the Blessed Sacrament. Time with the Real Presence of Jesus.

I want you to know that I prayed deeply and passionately for St. Matthew’s today. I think that is where her message came from. I prayed for my soul and the soul of St. Matthew’s to become Jesus. Just as the Real Presence was on the altar during Benediction, I want for us to become a Living Sacrament, the Real Presence of Jesus in our community. We have work to do, but it is the Lord’s work and He will see it through. Someone say, Amen!

Day Two: Clear Creek Monastery

Up at 4:30 a.m. this morning. Showered, dressed (cassock), and in the chapel by 5 a.m. We prayed until 8:15 a.m. After the first two times of prayer—Mattins and Lauds—it was time for Low Masses. This one was completely new to me. There are a total of ten altars (let the Altar Guild beware!) and a Mass was said at each of them simultaneously, but… they were said silently (either that or my hearing is really shot.) If you think we bow and kneel a lot… wow. It is truly beautiful to watch and listen to, which is about all I can do, although I’m beginning to learn how to follow along in the various books. It also helps to sit behind someone who knows what they are doing. (Although we in the Episcopal Church do less of the bowing, etc. I am certain that for someone new to us it feels the same way as I feel here. It is an excellent reminder that we must be who we are, but we also be accessible to those who are unfamiliar with our practices.)

Breakfast: the food is actually pretty good, but it is easy to see why these fellas are all so skinny. Actually, they’re probably just really healthy. I don’t know that we’ve seen a piece of meat yet, which makes me glad I stopped for the Big Mac on the way here (there’s meat in a Big Mac… right?) And I do confess to having smuggled in a few snacks, along with some instant coffee. Speaking of which, the coffee here is brilliant! I plan on seeing if they have some for sale in the bookstore.

During each of the meals we have someone read to us. For breakfast we heard a few chapters from the Rule of St. Benedict. Lunchtime… now that was fun: I doubt it was for my benefit, but being the only Anglican / Episcopalian here I had to stifle a few chuckles. The reading was a bit of church history and we heard about that excommunicated apostate and heretic Queen Elizabeth I. Her daddy got raked over a few coals as well. I think it was just a timing thing—can’t see them hauling that one out just to smack the heretic priest around—but I could almost feel the eyes boring into me. When the Abbot shook his head at one particular Elizabethan atrocity, I made sure I had a clear path to the exit. If I see them stacking wood, I’ll be making an early exit.

I have a fifteen decade rosary that I prayed today, most of it standing before this statue. (She could easily be the statue in The Golden Fistula. Truly beautiful and cut from a single piece of white marble.) Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do as a priest serving at St. Matthew’s, but to spend an hour and a half praying the rosary is not something I would ever be able to do… and you know… that’s OK. I’m going to find some time today or tomorrow and take a walk with her. She always shows us the most remarkable things and always leads us to her Son. What a great comfort to know we have a Mother who loves and treasures us as she loves and treasures her own Son.

It is 4:15 p.m. right now and Vespers is not until 6:00 p.m., so I’m going to sign off for now and either sneak in that nap or take that walk… be back a bit later in the day…….

The nap won, but I made it up in time for Vespers. Supper, then Compline.

Found a delightful book: Sermon in a Sentence: A Treasury of Quotations on the Spiritual Life by St. Padre Pio of Pietreclina. A bit like the collection of sayings from St. Josemaria Escriva in The Way, et al.

“I hope that Jesus will not only be pleased to enlighten me in the guidance of the souls He entrusts to my care and to sustain and comfort me in difficulties, but that He will Himself make up for my deficiencies.” (L1 1369)

Blessings to you all. I pray for you many times each day.

Day One: Clear Creek Monastery

“But I am a worm and not a man.” — Psalm 22:6a

“Poser!” — my heart

After watching the Brothers and their praying, those were my first two initial thoughts about myself. Perhaps a bit harsh. Maybe a little truth.

I arrived at the Clear Creek Monastery today around 3 p.m. was greeted by a very kind, very soft spoken Brother. He helped me with my bags (more books than clothes), showed me the basic layout, and then was off to attend other monk duties.

I say ‘monk’, because these fellas are the real deal. Most shocking aspect so far… most of them are very young. I had really expected there to be about eight older men, mostly hunched over. Wrong. There are fifty-four professed monks who spend their lives living, working, and mostly praying in this one place. The simplicity is desirable… I’ll keep you posted on that as I spend more time here. My soul says, “I want to do this!” But my mind says, “Hang on there fat boy.” I have a small home and I like it, but I would imagine that the monks ‘cells’ make my room here look like a mansion. Very sparse, but everything you need. When you are expected to spend your life in prayer, you don’t need much.

Of prayer: I’ve attended Vespers and Compline. The service is entirely sung and is all in Latin, so I just listen. Not a bad thing. It is exactly what you think it would sound like.

Just prior to supper, I was introduced to the Abbot. He washed my hands… yeah. Nothing to add…

Alright, it is 9:33 p.m. and you all are probably just getting started with your evening, but I’m off to bed. The day around here starts pretty early. The first service tomorrow is at 5:15 a.m. I keep looking at the schedule to see when we get nap time, but it doesn’t appear they have plans for that. I’m guessing I’ll work it out.

There is no WiFi and I’ve got one bar on my phone. It may take all night for this to upload…

The Lord bless you all and keep looking for miracles.

Louise at Sixteen

I’m always early. Always have been. Not entirely sure why, but it comes with a couple of perks, especially when traveling through airports. The best seat at the gate, no rushing about, and an outlet should you need to charge a phone. It also gives you the opportunity to watch everyone else running about.

Today, I watched folks jockeying for positions in lines so that they could get through security faster, chatting up airline desk attendants attempting to score an upgrade, and the occasional grouch, who no matter the situation, is going to find that one thing. And then there was… well, I don’t know her name, but she looked like a Louise, so Louise it is.

Louise was at least seventy, she appeared to have difficulties with balance–her gait was almost a stumble at every step–hair gray, and a bit overweight, but who am I to talk about that one. I watched Louise and I watched all the other travelers around me. What struck me about Louise is that, unlike everyone else, Louise wasn’t catching a flight this morning. Louise was cleaning. Going behind all of us, wiping up our spills, picking up our trash, wiping our fingerprints off the windows, mopping floors that we had tracked up, etc. As I watched her, I wondered if anybody else actually saw her (the fact that I did does not make me special, it was just me doing the people watching thing). What I wondered about Louise: I wondered what she was like at sixteen.

I saw a young girl in a pastel dress, with white socks (a bit of lace around the top), and shiny black shoes. I saw a girl trying to be a woman with her hair pulled back, a bit of color on her cheeks, and a smile to break the boys’ hearts. I saw a future unfolding and then I wondered again: when she was sixteen, did she see herself at seventy cleaning up after me as I passed through some random airport? Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with a custodial job. Had one myself for three years before going off to seminary. It is honest “clean” work, but I just wondered about Louise at sixteen. Is this how she saw life working out for her? I doubt it. Would she like to be boarding one of the hundreds of planes she sees departing everyday? Taking some exotic trip? Getting away from it all if for only a few days? I’m certain of it.

I saw a young girl in a pastel dress. She pushed her cleaning cart through an “Employees Only” door and disappeared. That young girl disappeared. I wonder if she thinks the same thing.

Funerals and Names

I stopped keeping track of the number of funerals that I have presided over when it reached 100.  The youngest was age 4 and the oldest was 101.  Some had their lives taken from them, others took their own lives, and some lived full lives.  I have been present at the time of death on a number occasions.  I have sat quietly praying next to the deceased in emergency rooms, hospital rooms, nursing homes, private homes, in a garage – wherever they lie in the end.  It sometimes bothers me that I can’t remember all their names.  It seems I should.

May their souls and the souls of all the faithful departed,
through the mercy of God, rest in peace.

On Bad Sermons

BARCHESTER TOWERS (Chapter VI), by Anthony Trollope (1857)

There is, perhaps, no greater hardship at present inflicted on mankind in civilized and free countries than the necessity of listening to sermons. No one but a preaching clergyman has, in these realms, the power of compelling an audience to sit silent and be tormented. No one but a preaching clergyman can revel in platitudes, truisms, and untruisms, and yet receive, as his undisputed privilege, the same respectful demeanour as though words of impassioned eloquence, or persuasive logic, fell from his lips. … But no one can rid himself of the preaching clergyman. He is the bore of the age, the old man whom we Sindbads cannot shake off, the nightmare that disturbs our Sunday’s rest, the incubus that overloads our religion and makes God’s service distasteful. We are not forced into church! No: but we desire more than that. We desire not to be forced to stay away. We desire, nay, we are resolute, to enjoy the comfort of public worship, but we desire also that we may do so without an amount of tedium which ordinary human nature cannot endure with patience; that we may be able to leave the house of God without that anxious longing for escape which is the common consequence of common sermons.

I pray my sermons never fall into such a category!  (Although it may be pride that makes me think they haven’t!!)

Who Goes to Heaven?

Jesus said:

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6-7)

Peter said:

Jesus is

‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.’

There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:11-12)

Rob Bell – often a rather controversial Christian leader – put together the following video as a promotion for his book Love Wins:

Here is the text of the video:

Several years ago we had an art show at our church and people brought in all kinds of sculptures, and paintings, and we put them on display. And there was this one piece that had a quote from Gandhi in it; and lots of people found this piece compeling. They’d stop and sort of stare at it, and take it in, and reflect on it—but not everybody found it that compelling. Somewhere in the course of the art show somebody attached a hand-written note to the piece, and on the note they had written: “Reality Check—He’s In Hell.”

Gandhi’s in hell? He is? And someone knows this, for sure; and felt the need to let the rest of us know? Will only a few, select, people make it to heaven? And will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And, if that’s the case, how do you become one of the few? Is it what you believe; or what you say, or what you do, or who you know—or something that happens in your heart? Or do you need to be initiated, or baptized, or take a class, or converted, or being born again—how does one become one of these few?

And then there is the question behind the questions, the real question: What is God like? Because millions and millions of people were taught that the primary message—the center of the Gospel of Jesus—is that God is going to send you to hell, unless you believe in Jesus. And so, what gets, subtlely, sort of caught and taught is that Jesus rescues you from God. But what kind of God is that; that we would need to be rescued from this God? How could that God ever be good; how could that God ever be trusted? And how could that ever be good news.

This is why lots of people want nothing to do with the Christian faith. They see it as an endless list of absurdities and inconsistencies; and they say: “Why would I ever want to be part of that?” See, what we believe about heaven and hell is incredibly important because it exposes what we believe about Who God is, and what God is like. What you discover in the Bible is so surprising, unexpected, and beautiful, that whatever we’ve been told or taught, the good news is actually better than that; better than we could ever imagine.

The good news is, that love wins.

Desmond Tutu in his book God Is Not A Christian: And Other Provocations, wrote the following:

My first point seems overwhelmingly simple: that the accidents of birth and geography determine to a very large extent to what faith we belong. The chances are very great that if you were born in Pakistan you are a Muslim, or a Hindu if you happened to be born in India, or a Shintoist if it is Japan, and a Christian if you were born in Italy. I don’t know what significant fact can be drawn from this — perhaps that we should not succumb too easily to the temptation to exclusiveness and dogmatic claims to a monopoly of the truth of our particular faith. You could so easily have been an adherent of the faith that you are now denigrating, but for the fact that you were born here rather than there.

My question for you is simple: Who goes to Heaven? Why?



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