Glastonbury Retreat 2010
Who would have thought that I’d be rooting around in the top of the closet in the monastery guesthouse looking for a blanket? It’s intriguing to me that on the day I set out to this place of prayer to lift up this moment in my life, with all its change and transition, the world around me transits as well. This bright, dry, 90-degree summer turns on a dime and becomes a dark, wet, barely 60-degree season that looks and feels more like late October than mid-August.
Like most monastic settings, and indeed many places of Christian prayer, times of common prayer here are signaled by the ringing of a bell. This evening the bell rang when a human hand moved it to call the community to prayer. But it rang as well throughout the evening and during the prayer, shaken by the wind, by the finger of the spirit. Walking back to the guesthouse there were leaves and small branches strewn all around in the darkness. It really has the look, the feel, the smell of autumn.
Sometimes seasons seem to change suddenly, though I am more than sure that we have a lot of summer left yet. But tonight, with the early darkness and the waving tress striking the chapel windows, the feel of that later season has been real. It made me think of Halloween trick or treating, of plans for Thanksgiving, of where to shop for Christmas! It made me look around for the blanket here, which I did find and put at the end of the bed.
That coming season is one in which, like tonight, it feels good to be inside, to be sheltered, to be embraced by light and warmth, the sound of human voices and the feel of real affection. It feels like the embrace of God, hugging us in the darkness and asking that we not be afraid, assuring that there is no reason for fear. Fear, the Word of God sang tonight at compline (night prayer), has no season of its own, no season at all: “God’s faithfulness is a protecting shield. You shall not fear the terror of the night, nor the arrow that flies by day. . . . You have the Lord for your refuge; you have made the Most High your stronghold” (psalm 91).
These assurances are given and received in every season, in light and darkness, in heat and in cold. They are simply true.
Surrounded again by a Benedictine welcome, I recall vividly in an instant so much of the feel of the summer of 2005 at Glenstal Abbey in County Limerick, Ireland. There I first felt the assurance given that enabled me to follow a path that led in new directions, yet based on the foundations and the principles and the faith that I’ve known and celebrated all my life. That assurance was renewed at Eastern Point in Gloucester during the 30-day retreat in the summer of 2007. And these days, these bright days and these dark nights, that assurance means more than ever.
The beginning of next month I leave behind the day to day experience of almost everything familiar to me, for the purpose of moving deeper into what is most fundamental – the experience of knowing God in God’s people. Both the leaving and the arriving feel massive, and yes, there are the pangs of fear.
But then I arrive here, on a night like this, wild and wet and realize anew that there is nothing to fear. There is everything to trust.
Our goal in at least one of our Middle East wars is to rebuild a government in our own image — with democracy for all. Instead, we are rebuilding ourselves in the image of those who detest us. I hate to see my country — and it’s a hell of a good one — endorse what we purport to hate, besmirching what distinguishes us from countries where persecution rules.
There has been some confusion in recent years about ‘limbo.’ Some people say that the Catholic Church got rid of it. Strictly speaking, that’s not true. The most church teachers said was that limbo may not be a necessary reality at all, as there is hope for salvation for infants who die without baptism. But they also reaffirmed that the idea of limbo, though never confirmed as Roman Catholic dogma, is in agreement with said dogma.
You remember the idea of limbo, right? A state of waiting, away from the vision of God, and a ‘time’ of purification.
Well these days I am here to say that limbo is a reality, and I don’t mean just the dance where you go lower and lower under the waving sticks (I could never do that!).
No, the limbo that is real to me is that of an interim state between one moment and another, between one place and another, between the familiar and the unfamiliar. It is that moment when the man (or woman!) on the flying trapeze has released his or her grip on the one bar and it waiting (calmly? confidently? patiently?) for the next one to arrive for the grabbing.
We all have times like this in life. Some of us become accustomed to them. But fewer of us ever become entirely comfortable in limbo. And that is good. Why? Simply because – whether theologically or practically – limbo is not a place where anyone is meant to stay.
You crown the year with your goodness,
and richness overflows wherever you are.
The pastures in the desert overflow with richness.
The hills are surrounded with joy.
The pastures are covered with flocks.
The valleys are carpeted with grain.
All of them shout triumphantly. Indeed, they sing.
~ Psalm 65
The words above from the conclusion of psalm 65 have been close to my heart all my life.
They speak of the abundance of God poured out for us, for people, where we live by the pastures, along the side of the hills, deep in the valleys – and yes, in the cities and on the Heights.
I particularly love that phrase from verse 11, “You crown the year with your goodness.” There is a sense of completion there. The year, that full period of time, is filled up and made whole by the goodness of God.
Throughout, there is a rich sense of abundance, of plenty for all to share, of an unending pouring out of good things to those ready to receive.
In the light of these words of scripture, what a privilege it has been to work at Boston College and its Church in the 21st Century Center! My desire has been, and continues to be, to contribute something to the good of the church, and thence to the world. In the measure this has been realized, it has everything to do with teamwork, to accomplishing together what we’ve recognized as worthy of effort.
As I prepare to leave the C21 Center and BC now, these words of psalm 65 have been flooding and pouring through my mind and heart again. This sense of plenty, of God’s abundant goodness and ready presence, are in my experience at Chestnut Hill because of you. Coming to know you, to work with you or near you, to experience the rhythm of the years with you, all of this has revealed to me again through my years at BC how good God is. And how the goodness of God is made known in men and women. In a world often hard and unforgiving, that is a not inconsiderable gift. Thank you. And may the same and greater gifts be yours now and always.
I’ll be in touch.