into the marketplace

For my lectio recently I’ve been praying the story of the creation. In the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep.

Sitting with these words, allowing them to reverberate in the silence of my heart, I know that that beginning, formless and void, was a time when there was only God. God with God, God loving God. No separation. Like the time between conception and birth when mother and child share the same heartbeat and the same breath. Or like the moment of union in sex, when not only is one body joined to another, but two souls become one as well.

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learning love

During my retreat in Glendalough, I’ve been praying a good deal with the image of two men in my life who always seemed more absent than present: my father and grandfather. They were (or are, in my father’s case) very different men. My father was gone before he was ever there: drawn away by drugs and drink. From my earliest memories he is an absent presence and a present absence. My grandfather was always there, always expressed how much he loved me, gentle and kind. And yet, there was something absent about him, too, some secret place shut tight, all but forgotten. I’ve always had the sense that his gentle, kind exterior hid multitudes.

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I’m nearing the end of our two-week Celtic pilgrimage, after which our group of 32 will fly back to New York, while I fly on to Dublin to make my way an hour and a half south to Glendalough. There I’ll stay in a hermitage for my annual retreat.

It’s been a wonderful pilgrimage, and surprising in so many ways. On the first night of our trip, weary from flying and then driving on to our hotel in Shrewsbury, I talked with our group about the difference between pilgrimage and tourism. A pilgrimage, I told them, is an outward journey that marks an inward one. It’s about seeing places made holy by the devotion of our forebears, yes. But it’s about much more than that. It’s about our own inward journey to the heart, where we find Christ and our own truest self.

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a craving for depth

St. Aidan’s Day

I seem to have come through a crisis moment with my health. I went to the doctor with one concern, and, after running a quick test, he became concerned that I might have various forms of cancer. I underwent more tests, all which came back clear. No cancer.

Still, for nearly a month, I was left looking down the long, dark road of my future. What if I were going to die much sooner than I had anticipated? It was an intense month. I felt all the feelings: anxiety, fear, anger, grief, peace, acceptance, surrender, trust, joy. I began to have the sense that God was setting my life on fire. The whole world, my friends and family, and I myself seemed lit from within, radiant.

And then, mercifully, the test results came back clear, and the moment of crisis passed. Now, I find I have to face into the possibility of a long life, which is a different kind of challenge from facing into the possibility of a short one.

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a prayer for Charlottesville

In the wake of the eruption of white supremacist protests in Charlottesville, and on the last night of our vacation, my brothers and I sat down for Eucharist. We had no idea that the Sunday lectionary would so perfectly speak to the situation we have been facing into as a nation.

With tears in our eyes, we read about the jealousy, fear, and hatred that led Joseph’s brothers to sell him into slavery. And from Paul, we heard one of his many reminders of our common humanity: “there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him.”

As we discussed these readings, some very human and very familiar dynamics began to rise to the surface. It was his brothers’ fear and jealousy that led them first to cast Joseph into a pit to starve and then to sell him into slavery. At each point in the story these men not only made peace with evil, but negotiated with it in order to attempt to wash their hands of wrongdoing. Each compromise was a further acquiescence to the darkness inside them.

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in celebration of friendship

The last week three of my brothers and I have been on vacation together in Maine. This trip has been a bit of an experiment. Although the four of us live together in monastic community, there is a difference between friendship and fraternity. The two categories can, and often do, overlap, but they’re not the same thing. It has been a gift to be able to explore and deepen my relationships with these three brothers and in so doing to grow closer to God in them and in myself.

When I was a novice, my novice master told our formation group that we would be lucky to have one true friend in the monastery and luckier still if we lived in the same community with that friend. This bit of wisdom was one of many hard sayings from my novitiate, akin to “there is no such thing as unconditional love, except from God.” Or “infatuation is a form of insanity.” Like many hard sayings, this bit about friendship is true, which is why it’s so hard to hear and to incorporate.



We have such a skewed vision of friendship. I don’t know that our views are more skewed than they have been in the past. Probably they’re just differently skewed. But skewed they are. We call people we barely know our friends. And we try to rush headlong into the kind of intimacy that can only develop slowly and with great intention and attention. Relationships of any meaningful sort take time. They cannot be rushed or contrived. Like a flower, the bud must develop and, under the right conditions, slowly and gloriously unfold itself.
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a long loving look at the real

My spiritual director told me recently that contemplation is a long, loving look at the real. If God is Truth, then the more I can allow the truth to become a part of my life, the more I can gaze on reality with acceptance and love, the more truly I can be in relationship with God. As C.S. Lewis often prayed, “May it be the true I before the true Thou.” So many of our problems in the spiritual life can be traced back to a distaste for being the true I or for seeing and loving the true God.

A variety of circumstances have invited me into a truer relationship with the reality of death and the fragility of life. I am unable to ignore the real possibility that today could be my last day alive. And whether I die today or sixty years from now, I will die at some point. There will come a time when no one I love is still alive. Those whose memories and stories have sustained and nurtured me will fade away, like fog before the sun, as will I. The church that reverberates with my community’s chant will one day, in all likelihood, be silent. Nature will reclaim the gardens I tend, and the pieces I have knit will return to the earth from which they came.
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a maker’s life

For the last week or two I have been struck forcibly by the gift of my life. The things I have most yearned for–home, family, love, and intimacy–now fill my life. When I reflect on that abundance, the words of Psalm 139 come to me: “such knowledge is too wonderful for me. It is so high that I cannot attain to it.” It’s almost as if the light is too bright to look into head on. I can only appreciate the full gift of my life in small increments, and seen from the side.

I have consistently made choices that have led me into the life I now live. Those choices have often been difficult ones, and they certainly haven’t led to a life free of struggle or longing. But they have led to a life that is larger and more spacious than I could ever have imagined, even as its particulars look nothing like the daydreams of childhood.

And yet, there is an element of grace in my life that I cannot overlook. The abundance I experience is greater than the sum of my choices. My part has been to take up the pieces of my life, to hold them up to God, and to allow God–often through my actions–to make of those pieces what God will. And then to be satisfied, even to rejoice, at the partial, human, messy imperfection of it all.


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