Having a dog assures that you are up early every day. You may go back to bed, but if you want to avoid a problem of greater or lesser proportion, it is worth rising early and getting out with the pooch.
This morning at 5:30 am I came out the back door of my Mom’s house in southern New Hampshire in the company of Gracie, the miniature Australian Shepherd. The land was still covered in the darkness of night. It was silent. Taking a breath there, I immediately knew that the fields and lawns here had been mown yesterday afternoon. The air was filled with the sweet, living aroma of fresh-cut grass, testimony to the goodness of creation and dare I say, to the continuing care of the Creator.
Something about that set of early morning circumstances brought me back immediately and powerfully to early mornings in the summer of 2005, across the ocean from here, dogless, where I nonetheless rose early each morning to head to the first prayers of every new day in the monastery church at Glenstal Abbey in Limerick. Leaving my room in solitude, as I walked downstairs and along the paths of the monastery enclosure, I would fall into step with companions on their way to the same destination. It was a place of praise of the divine. And it was also a beautifully human place, as the group of us of all ages and backgrounds had heaved up our bones and dragged ourselves a few hundred yards to the place where this common enterprise would enliven our spirits, remind us of God’s long-term care and call, and launch us gently into the new day.
All that came rushing back this morning, in the darkness and silence of the New Hampshire countryside, with the same God of the psalms looking on. It was a moment of both powerful noatalgia and full gratitude.
This past week I began work in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island with responsibility to pay loving attention to formation in Christ throughout the diocese. For me it is a question, at every age, in early morning and restful night, of how well we introduce one another to the God of love, to the Son he has made incarnate among us, and to their Spirit who longs to dwell within every human person.
For me the key it seems will be to keep focus on the person of Jesus and on the Gospel his friends have given us. I was once privileged to teach ecclesiology, the theology of the church, at Saint John’s Seminary in Brighton, Massachusetts. My study and reading at that time convinced me for all time that the church is off-base when we are primarily and obviously concerned with the good of the church itself. Our focus is not meant to be on the institution. The institution exists for the sake of the call we have received from Jesus Christ. It is a tool in the hand of that mission. Yes, as any tool it will need at some intervals to be sharpened, repaired, renewed. That is true without a doubt. But for the vast predominance of the moments God gives us to act in this world, our goal is not to protect the church. It is to invite people to the Gospel life. When we are about the work, the true beauty of Christ’s Church shines forth as a beautiful by-product.
A Benedictine friend at Glenstal Abbey has recently written of the unfortunate “narcissism” of the church over his lifetime of more than seventy years. I know what he means.
My job will be to open to human hearts the possibility, the genuine possibility, of their living heart to heart with the God we met in chant in the church at Glenstal Abbey every morning. That same God in Christ is present on the streets of Brooklyn, by the hospital beds of the suffering, in the rooms of the lonely, in the laughter of children wherever they live; in short, within the needs and the abundance of everyone everywhere.
Looking in that direction, there is both plenty to do and much to celebrate.