Jesus in the church (Glenstal 2022)

In the Abbey Church the hour before noonday Mass,

in the quiet a woman kneels, with a bucket of water and a cloth

washing the kneelers of each and all the pews.

She bends and wipes, sits sometimes and sighs, sometimes kneels in silence. and then continues to bend again.

(I think never have I seen prayer as committed and deep)

I see Jesus kneeling before his disciples at the last supper

washing the feet of each and all.

Here now Jesus looks like the majority of humanity as she cleans

with love,

and here the feet of the disciples are invisible,

but still as always soiled and in need of washing.

I move across the aisle from the benches she is apporaching now,

meaning to get out of the way, but settling on the far side I think, ‘Have I just played the role of the resisting Peter?

Lord, you will never wash my feet?’

A couple joined in a lifetime of marriage enter now and pause at a painting; the husband reads to his wife in his deep resonant old voice that here is ‘John 4, Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well’

And the image of the moment shifts,

here is the woman with the pail, as the woman at the well carried her pail and met there Jesus who told her the story of her life

and she was changed, but even more confirmed

in becoming her true self.

Comes the Mass and at the Gospel these words (of all!) begin, ‘When Jesus had washed the disciples’ feet, he said to them . . . ‘

Perhaps I see or hear too much, more than is there, but whatever you doubt, believe this:

the work of God goes on, in all ways and in all places.

Glenstal Abbey Church

On to Glenstal

The sun is shining here this morning at Ashbourne. It wasn’t shining half an hour ago, and it may not be ten minutes from now. But now, it shines. So, stay with the present moment.

Within the hour with my kind hosts, Billy and Pauline, we will set out ultimately for Glenstal Abbey. It is a place with important memories of arrival and settling in during the summer of 2005. It is good to have the opportunity to go there now, to arrive, and to be available to the Lord who is always lovingly at work.

Yesterday afternoon at the monastic ruins we visited, a wonderful chance meeting took place. There was a young couple in the graveyard which has existed for seemingly ever around what is left of the walls of the monastery and its church. They had come over on their bikes and greeted us as we wandered around. A conversation opened, as they leaned on their bikes. They are a newly-married couple, he from Italy and she from Ukraine. They have decided to settle for life together in Ireland. We talked for five or ten minutes and felt as if we knew their hearts, as if we had known them forever.

This seems the fruit of hearts open to one another as we meet through life, whether meetings that will lead to long and deep connections, or seemingly chance meetings that open to depths of meaning in minutes. The four of us stood talking surrounded by the ruins of a monastery – a place of faith and prayer and community that flourished on that same earth 14 centuries ago.

When we will to connect, when we are open to one another in trust, right in the midst of a world that seems to teach us not to trust, surprising gifts pour down from the heavens. Along with Irish rain!

Tonight I am in a lovely room at Glenstal’s guest house. This place, as well as so much that has already happened over the past week and more, bears witness to the availability and the loving power of hospitality freely offered. I am often told – in word and deed – that real hospitality is terribly rare in our time and that what masquerades for it is not to be trusted. I see and feel and experience something quite different. And quite heartening. That is, the abundance of genuine loving welcome offered and accepted between friends and among strangers.

Since arrival here this afternoon, Glenstal’s hospitality has included the invitation to prayer. Both evening prayer and compline have been rich moments of peace, of blessed words emerging from a sacred silence, gently and with purpose.

Psalm 90 always rings true at the closing of the day. And so it did tonight: “Since you cling to me in love, I will free you, protect you for you love my name.”

Hospitality, love, protection. And sleep. From here at 9:35pm, to you at 3:35pm, may the remainder of the day open hospitable doors and loving words to you.

The evening light over the church at 9:35pm

Germantown

This is the first real travel since Covid began its long and challenging visit. I arrived two days ago in the City of Brotherly love, and have been settling in to a routine of prayer and discovery here in Germantown. I’m in Saint Margaret’s House at Saint Luke’s Church in Germantown. I am here as a participant in a short-term popup Christian community. I am here with a few members of the Community of Francis and Clare, a dispersed group of men and women, spread over the United States and elsewhere, who are living life in the world in the spirit of those two great saints given us all by the beautiful town of Assisi.

A word about Saint Luke’s Parish. The parish was founded in 1811, It is a good part of a city block, featuring an imposing rectory that houses the parish office, the beautiful church, Saint Barnabas Hall, and Saint Margaret’s House. (There may be more!). I will share some images here.

All whom we have met thus far have been extraordinarily welcoming. The rector has been gracious, and introduced us to the church Monday morning and then spent time in good conversation. It is enlightening to hear him speak about the parish through Covid and beginning in present days to emerge. They have a food pantry open twice weekly. Before pandemic in summer they provided breakfast, lunch, and a take-home dinner to kids. In Saint Margaret’s House, retreats take place several times a year, with new plans and possibilities ahead. I love the fact that one of the signs as you approach the parish center campus speaks of “the urban center at Saint Luke’s.” And I am gratified and inspired by the truth that they do what I have written of and much more by finding and winning grants and by teaming up with other organizations doing good work here. They even work with a group helping to provide a path for families who want to remain in the area to successfully buy their home over a generation to provide stability for families and the community into the future.

Here in Saint Margaret’s House, I marvel with gratitude at the graceful speed at which genuine community can be born and begin to deepen. As mentioned, the other visitors here are all members of a Franciscan community recently founded. They have a common history and converging interests. In addition, the gentleman who is resident in the House has connected with the group. I have felt welcomed and included in every way. This experience moves me to thank God for the living connective tissue of the heart that bonds disciples of Jesus already, even as we meet. This ‘head-start’ may be true also of folks who share a common interest in Romanesque architecture or the novels of Marilynne Robinson, or whatever. But it certainly is felt here and now.

For me this coming-to-a-halt in terms of the everyday seems already absolutely vital in a way that I had not previously imagined. Arriving March 1, 2020 at Saint Matthew’s in Worcester MA we fell together immediately headlong into the experience of pandemic that no one of us would have imagined. The time since, all of it, has been filled and fraught with stress and challenge and striving and loss and victory; with grief’s sorrow and the repeated near-death and renewed life of hope. All of it, absolutely all of it, absolutely exhausting; emptying out and reconfiguring the very soul in a way and to a depth that no other experience has even approached.

So to sit on the front step here this evening, a steaming mug of black tea clutched in two hands and simply to witness a “Welcome” banner blowing, and at my ground-level perch to look through the plant life toward the churchyard – as little as it sounds – is the stuff of rebirth, of resuscitation, of (as must be said in this season) shared resurrection with the Christ.

To sit long in conversation, to remain long in silent prayer, to walk long in new company – these little things are the stuff of life. They are a long deep breath of the created delights that the God of Eden and of Easter has brought to be, to be noticed, and to be lived. Here is the first time in an uncountable time to rest in the present passing moment with a sense of fullness; and in realizing that, with a grateful heart.

Next week will see a return to a place that became lastingly sacred to me during the summer of 2005. I look forward with joy to that place and time. I am also immensely happy to live this week, this evening, this moment in this time and place.