Reading over previous Ember day letters, a serious omission struck me: failure to tell you how much I love this life. Or how deeply I feel that I have come home, that I am finally where I am supposed to be. The Lord loves me, I am free from many other considerations to embrace Him in return. With narrower options come immeasurable freedom to listen and hear, seek and find.
I had forgotten that a desire for accountability should include the positives as well as the negatives. One consideration that stopped me is that I have history of keeping what is most important to me a secret so that others don’t trample all over it. However, my mentors certainly need to know that contentment and joy establish residences within me.
Perhaps the most significant change during this novitiate is that somewhere along the way I have ceased to think of myself as a depressed person but a happy one. I’ve never said such a thing about myself before. Sometimes I feel as if God is saying to me “See? Now if you had just listened to Me earlier...”
The illness is still there, the symptoms must still be managed. But for the first time in so long that I cannot remember when, my daily thoughts are not consumed with where I am on the continuum of depression but with yielding all of myself into the hands of God. The Magnificat bursts into my mind and out of my mouth just thinking about what the Lord has wrought. Given what medical professionals have said to me over the years, I can perhaps be forgiven for thinking that the day would never dawn when I would claim to be healed of depression. I may not be cured, but certainly God has healed me.
By no means are you to understand that I am saying this life which God has chosen for me is easy. It is not. While it is true that in outward appearance, very little has changed, i.e. I pray the Offices, devote time to lectio divina, study, work, read and meditate on the Rule of St. Benedict as I have every day for over 20 years, within me there are large differences. It may seem arrogant to say this, but an ontological change began within me as a result of making the promises and the laying on of hands. More pieces of my life have fallen into place these past several months than ever before. The rightness of this way to live takes me over more and more and settles inside me as if it should have been there all along.
It would be naive to claim that this might not be a lonely vocation. Or that I don’t long to discuss with the like-minded those daily issues which cause me to stumble in holy living. Hence, I believe the interest in the Franciscans and the Fellowship Charitos. Then, as I said to Fr. Mike one day this summer, I remembered one of the first things Benedict addresses in his Rule: stability. It is true that Benedict meant staying put in one monastery with one community. But it occurred to me that one could be just as much of a gyrovague, flitting hither and yon, via the internet as one could be wandering from place to place geographically. (RB 1.10 & 11)
With the exquisite timing of the Holy Spirit, these same thoughts occurred at the same time to my spiritual director and Fr. Mike and Rev. Gwynn. At the same time I was coming to the conclusion that I needed to cut back and redirect any Internet involvement, they were also coming to that conclusion. Julia Cameron, _The Artist’s Way_ calls such timing “synchronicity”. I call it the Holy Spirit. Thus my Internet involvement is now limited to no more than 1 hour a day, if that, for a couple of lists which do discuss the nitty gritty of holy living and maybe 2 hours a week for our new All Soul’s On Line Christian Formation Forum. Fr. Mike and Rev Gwynn have invited me to be one of the moderators or shepherds for this experiment.
In the area of study, I felt constrained to polish up my various notes and thoughts on the subject of vocation. In the past few years, I invested a good bit of time in the study of vocation, its nature, what the Scriptures have to say about it, etc. I hope that at some occasion, it might be possible for me to present this material to others as I have long thought that the Episcopal Church lacks emphasis on the vocation of all Episcopalians. We tend to think, or so it seems to me, of vocation solely in terms of the diaconate or the priesthood, rather than as something that involves all Christians.
Having had a great deal of down time due to an injured knee and resulting surgery, some other things I have read since my last Ember Day Report include:
Maffin, June, Disturbed by God: A Journal of Spiritual Discovery (Toronto, Canada, Anglican Book Centre, 1996) The author lived traumatic events and turned them into a reflection/workbook. which I would recommend for personal or group work.
Foley, Mark, The Love that Keeps Us Sane: Living the Little way of St. Therese of Lisieux. A very short book that has kept me thinking now for months and challenging me on all sorts of aspects of everyday life in these United States I have taken for granted from TV to talking to people. Clearly there was more to the Little Flower than her flowery language. I shall have to reread her work as a result of this short book.
Pitchford, Susan, Following Francis: The Franciscan Way for Everyone (New York, NY: Morehouse Publishing, 2006) Ms. Pitchford writes that one of her goals with this book was to do for the Anglican Third Order of St. Francis what Kathleen Norris did for the Rule of St. Benedict ( Dakota: A Spiritual Journey and Cloister Walk). Each chapter addresses the author’s experience with one of the Principles of the Third Order. Reflection questions and ideas for implementing the principle. Meditating on the material gave me new insight into living out the Gospel. Another book I would recommend for group or personal study.
Schoemperlen, Diane, Our lady of the Lost and Found (New York, NY: Penguin:Putnam Books, 2001) The author describes this as a novel of Mary, faith and friendship. A middle-aged writer entertains Our Lady as a house guest for a week and explores many of Mary’s visitations over the centuries, contrasting those events with the simple gracious woman occupying her guest room. The writer is compelled to rethink life’s big questions and her own capacity for faith. This novel is worth a second reading.
Barry, Colman J., Worship and Work: St. John’s Abbey and University, 1856-1980 (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press) A history of a Benedictine abbey from the days when Minnesota was an unknown frontier.
Goscelin of St. Bertin, The Book of Encouragement and Consolation (Cambridge: D.S. Brewer, 2004) Goscelin wrote these letters to the Recluse, Eva, whom he had known from childhood and served as her spiritual advisor. Eva left England for France, possibly to get away from Goscelin. The text is interesting to me as an early anchoritic text which in turn anticipates better known documents such as the Ancrene Wisse or Aelred of Rievaulx. What I found useful was overcome by Goscelin’s passion for Eva which I found disturbing. It may be that I read it through the prurient, voyeuristic eyes of the 21st century but I wish I hadn’t read it. I’ve read other medieval documents, as passionate, such as Spiritual Friendship, but there is something about Goscelin that gives me the creeps in a dirty old man sort of feeling.
Burton-Christie, Douglas, The Word in the Desert: Scripture and the Quest for Holiness in Early Christian Monasticism ( New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993) I can’t believe this book hasn't;t found me earlier. I fell in love withthe Sayings of the Desert Christians around the same time I discovered the Rule of St. Benedict. The chapter on Words and Praxis combined with Foley and Pitchford to provoke some serious questions about the way I speak to others. One area is where I bought into the smart alecky zippy one liners.
Stewart, Columba, Prayer and Community: The Benedictine Tradition (Mary Knoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1998) Although this book is less than ten years old, it has found its way onto every Benedictine bibliography have found and I agree it belongs on them all. In barely 122 pages, the author traces Benedict’s teachings on prayer, both personal and corporate. He underscores over and over the centrality of prayer and lectio as the foundation for Benedictine monarchism. Br. Columba also discusses how various communities of Benedictines have adapted the Rule. I was particularly interested in what he had to say of modern American experience.
Kardong, Terence Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1996) I may have mentioned this book before and I’ll likely mention this again. This is the first commentary written in English on the RB and represents the life’s work of the author. In addition to the Latin text and the author’s translation, the book contains detailed philological notes or word studies as well as summaries of scholarly thinking. This latter is of particular value as the major studies on the RB are written in French, German and Italian.
Praying the Divine Office has been enhanced and simplified by the gift of the Breviary used in the Order of St. Helena. It is a very user friendly and has replaced the Monastic Diurnal Revised. The MDR requires a a lot of flippin’ and a floppin’ from page to page, section to section and back again which drove me nuts. I always felt I was praying the office wrong. While I doubt that God cares if I was on the right page or not, it was a distraction that is now eliminated. I turn to the St. Helena’s Breviary with joy rather than frustration.
Consideration is being given to the possibility that I might go to Kenya with Fr. Mike and other parishioners in March. I suggested to Fr. Mike and Hardisons that I teach in the seminary there. The Hardisons have responded favorably to the suggested courses: A Theology of Vocation and an Introduction to the Rule of St. Benedict. Were this to work out yet another major piece of my life would fall into place.
Some thirty years ago, following what I believed to be the guidance of the Holy Spirit, I embarked on an education that was aimed to equip me to teach in seminary. I have never wavered in my belief that it was God’s will for me to get that education and it has certainly enriched my life more ways than I could count. But I have been always curious about the seminary bit and what happened. Perhaps it was my assumption that I was to teach in the USA that was the problem.
God’s pull on me remains strong. This has been a difficult year what with prolonged illness and injured knee. At the same time it was fruitful. An example I haven’t mentioned is that the All Soul’s Prayer Shawl Ministry now has more shawls than it needs, thanks to all that down time. There will be some hand knit Christmas stockings fro sale at Christmas Arts as well as some hand knit glamorous evening bags.
God wants me in this life. I want Him in whatever way He wants me. I ask permission to take the next step of making temporary vows.