…this gift of Pentecost was diversified according as it was given to the Virgin Mary or to the Apostles, Mary received it and dwelt in the silence of love. The Apostles received it, left the Cenacle, and began to speak. This unique gift takes, then, two different directions: it forms some to speak and others to be silent. It is love that impels the contemplative soul to keep silence, it is love that impels the Apostle to leave his contemplation, to be obedient unto death, to give the Gospel message to others. –Thomas Philippe ‘The Fire of Contemplation’
Fighting fire with fire,
Disease cured through mangled brokenness,
Shrouds of sickness inviting into sadness,
Cutting teeth obsessively,
Gnawing through emotional immaturity,
What once tendered mercifully now exposed,
Mental illness standing arrogant opposed,
Closed and festering, feeding in upon itself,
Growth the formation of negating,
A time and a season, a spiteful passing,
Stagnating insane smiles demanding superiority,
Weather ripe for fleeing,
Terrestrial evacuation spiritually appeasing,
Amber waves of gold calling,
Rolling tundra on into wide open spaces,
A horizon line vastly distant,
Visible in distinction, seen yet unreachable,
The fire of contemplation burning within,
Exterior expansion guiding interior,
A light to guide,
Ears open, mouth shut, heart imploring,
A soft still voice singing hymns of glory,
Mary’s birthday receiving,
Grace signifying something bestowed,
Beauty to a soul magnified quality,
A journey of a thousand tears on into joy.
Another day at Assumption Abbey begins. Brother Louis has a doctor’s appointment this morning, nothing serious, so I have the morning free from work. I have been designated Brother Louis’ helper which I am finding to be a good thing. He tends to farming and practical needs, allowing tractor rides and exploring of all aspects of the abbey. Confidence comforts in that I have skills to offer the abbey. My electrical industrial maintenance background provides utilitarian real-world skills; knowledge and experience necessary for the upkeep of a farm and compound the size of the abbey. I know nothing about farming nor cattle, yet I am happy and hungry to learn, understanding my extensive background in electrical, mechanical, welding, and large equipment operation aligns fittingly with the farmer personality of Brother Louis and other of the monks raised on farms and ranches. Although I was already mocked for the way I pick tomatoes, tagged the wandering picker. I guess it is important to have a system and order to your picking. I just sort of move here and there searching out the color red. The other aspect of my personality, the cultured, artistic, and intellectual side is also nourished. There is no shortage of men serious in education, cultural pursuits and cerebral efforts. Father James particularly fascinates intellectually, while others Brother Michael, Brother Elias (cantankerous, yet I sense brilliance), Brother Jacob, many of the priests and brothers—overall the mature men are of stout quality and character. I should also mention a gentleman on retreat, an oblate who stays at the abbey twice a year. He is an accomplished violinist who taught at the Cleveland Institute of Music for a short period. Currently residing in Minot, North Dakota, he was familiar with St Paul Shrine, the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy, and other cultural aspects of East Cleveland. I still have not identified the author of the novel that was a part of my focusing upon Assumption Abbey, and most pleasing is the fact I feel no need to single him out. Artistic intrigue is provided by Brother Lewellyn, artist in residence, a painter and pottery maker. His studio is fascinating, overflowing with activity, works, and wonder. I know artists and within his core he is an artist. After living at the Collingwood Arts Center, I find his work invigorating simply based upon dedication to faith and his strong work ethic. He demonstrates the fact creative efforts can induce spiritual growth. I am convinced the majority of modern artist and musicians stagnate in an overwhelming existential attachment to individuality, overwhelmed consumingly by pride, insecurity, and basically fear to the point they self-destruct. There is a crushing need to be original in a world were being original and weird has amassed to conformity. In truth, those dedicating their lives to creativity create destruction within their own lives and those who love them. Brother Lewellyn lives a different life as a Benedictine monk. He operates a large gas kiln that he mentioned automating, a project I would be honored to be a part of. His process of firing his pottery at this time is based on observation and manual controlling of the gas valve. Witnessing his methods, I realized the firing of the pottery is truly just as creative as the sculpting. He produces effects such as placing a leaf, horse hair, and other objects on the clay at certain temperatures, depriving oxygen, thus burning into the clay the image of the object placed upon it. I will be taking photos of his studio, hopefully today. Brother Gregory has a woodworking shop in which I will also conduct a photo shoot. The abbey is a bustling place of activity.
The prayer life, the aspect determining permanency, I would like to touch upon, it is where I left off my thoughts yesterday morning. The quote from Saint Alphonsus Rodriguez telling of the obedience of St Stylites is worth mentioning. I was moved by the fact the St Stylites abandoned his extreme spiritual exercise, living upon a pole, when questioned by his superiors the desert fathers. Without a second thought, similar to Our Lady’s fiat, he acquiesced personal spiritual convictions through overriding respect for the hierarchy of the church. In compliance to truth and maturity, the church officials determined his calling based solely upon his ability to demonstrate such severe obedience. The lesson I take from the telling is that personal spiritual exercises cannot breakdown the workings of the church. God’s voice must not be drowned out by individual machinations pushing forth private ideas regarding proper spiritual exercises and thought. The spiritual obstacle I stumble upon in regards to Assumption Abbey is the lack of devotion to daily Eucharistic Adoration. My spiritual life is centered upon the Eucharist, daily adoration carrying my faith, hope, and charity. I posted the chapel tabernacle for a precise reason last night. I can sit in the chapel, within ten feet, of the tabernacle, quiet in prayer and proximity to the hidden Eucharist. Last night, I found the experience appealing. Out in the world, employed secularly, settling into Cleveland, overwhelmed by the emotional and spiritual immaturity of Ann, I needed the exposed Eucharist daily. The nurturing provided was necessary in a confronting a noisy world; conditions and experiences that provided little comfort and nothing of a deeper love. A move to North Dakota, an advancement in emotional, psychological, practical, social, and spiritual conditions, I no longer need to feed upon the teat. St Paul explains in 1 Corinthians But I, brethren, could not address you as spiritual men, but as men of the flesh, as babes in Christ. I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready, for you are still of the flesh. To move to North Dakota, to present myself for admittance to Assumption Abbey, is to acquiesce to their ways. Prayer before the reposed Eucharist must be viewed as a challenge from God to strengthen my love, to center myself in deeper through, with, and in faith, hope, and charity. I must be willing to abandon God in order to draw closer to God.
A spiritual exercise in reading: in the world contemplative Eucharistic relationship composed with how I perceive religious life at Assumption Abbey relating to the Eucharist. All wonderfully presented in one paragraph by Father Thomas Philippe in a book attained from the abbey library, an author I knew nothing about before my visit.
The solitary contemplative, occupied exclusively with staying near to God, finds an incomparable treasure in the Eucharist. The Divine Presence is the great theme that commands his whole life. A contemplative is not one who acts, who does something, even something holy, but rather one who lets himself be filled…Peter symbolizes the active life, because he loves Jesus; John, the contemplative life, because he is loved by Jesus. The contemplative remains at the feet of the Savior.
The contemplative remains in the presence of the Invisible. The Sacred Host is the efficacious sign of the guest who is hidden. It both sustains the faith of the contemplative and stimulates his love. It is difficult to remain still and silent in the presence of The Invisible; the Blessed Sacrament is our support.
Gospel of John tantalizing: And after this he said to him, “Follow me.” Peter turned and saw following them the disciple whom Jesus loved, who had lain close to his breast at the supper and had said, “Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?” When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, “Lord, what about this man?” Jesus said to him, “If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!”
I am not going to finish my post breakfast musing now that I sit waiting upon Vespers after dinner. I will quote from ‘The Fire of Contemplation’ by Dominican Thomas Philippe. Father Philippe is an amazing story, born within a French family of twelve brothers and sisters, seven of his siblings honored a call to the religious life. Father Thomas, aside from his writing, is known for forming a religious community for the handicapped, mentally disabled men he lived and worked with.
Divine Love, on the contrary, is infinite in its very reality; love’s aspirations and transports are measured by the Infinite One: and as we shall show, there truly may be something of the Infinite in these utterly secret human experiences (contemplative consolations, or lack of consolations), for those manifestations take place in the deepest center of the soul. Divine Love has the incomparable privilege of not having to express itself externally. No poetic sublimation is necessary here; moreover we are obliged to admit that symbols and metaphors to express its hidden visitations are always infinitely short of the reality. Mystical love, by its deepest tendency, inclines to silence; it avoids literature, it shuns poetic expressions; it is essentially recollection and adoration. –Thomas Philippe
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The waiting of the hour slips beneath the anticipation of the setting of the sun, sky painted fading,
All is good, unannounced quiet comes,
Called, be still advancing, reticence strike the tongue,
A day rolls on into eternity, the blasting of the aftermath concluding with the sound of holy water flowing, a fountain, presence pronounced with the dawn of eve,
It wasn’t so horrible when the surface tore away, tempering through the pain, something greater in patience revealing,
Tapping upon a window a multitude of windows open to the sound of their own harmonizing crescendo, the Divine Office sung as one,
Imperfections and strengths merging, an original lost within a crowd, a community hankers down upon never ending,
The silence of the Eucharist, communion encircled, the church does not crumble, the gathered maintain.
I am blessed with a full seven days in North Dakota. The extended visit allows deeper insight into the community as an individual community. I was thinking about the friary, comparing for the sake of understanding, honest, penetrating within for the sake of revealing the still small voice of God.
And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD.” And behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Eli’jah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Eli’jah?” –1 Kings chapter 19
The schedule and routine of the Abbey I recognize as mature, avoiding the extreme of harsh discipline for the sake of trying to be something. In attempting to force matters, imposing free will, vanity naturally rears its head. In the friary, we went to bed after evening prayers, around ten o’clock, this being after flagellation, collapsing into sleep upon the floors of our cells—no beds. We were roused at midnight for compline. Stumbling to prayers, we concluded with a return to collapsing upon our floors for under four hours of sleep, before being roused once again for morning prayers and the first Holy Hour of the day. The lack and disruption of sleep was discombobulating. Here in North Dakota, evening prayers end the day, a monk able to retire around nine, sleeping in his bed until five in the morning. Eight hours of uninterrupted sleep. In regards to maturity and permanency, I find value in the structure. I am confident God blesses my prayer life. There is my strength through God. Reserving my strength and energy for prayer usurps the need for community asceticism. Inward rather than outward dominating.
It is the maturity of North Dakota overall that appeals to a call, allows the still small voice of God to be heard. Yesterday, Sunday, was a day of hiking. In the early afternoon six of us, three older monks, and two younger, went for a hike to the lake residing to the north. It was a splendid time of good cheer and fellowship–simple and accented by the beauty of North Dakota. Defining the excursion by what it was not, I reflect upon such an encounter with the friars. There was always an over discussion of spiritual matters, voices searching for validity pushing agendas upon one another. Cliques would form, feelings and pride hurt thus the need for alliances and coalitions. Childish really, not a fault more than a lack of growth, it is understandable when one considers not only the age of the friars, yet also the fact the order itself was not even five years old. Everyone, including the community, was focused upon establishing identity.
I see my own fault in friary days in that my focus concentrated upon the community. I was too consumed with everyone surrounding. As a community, conflict was continual. It is a slippery slope. I value St Teresa of Avila’s commentary in ‘The Way of Perfection’ that favorites, singling fellow religious out, is dangerous. Religious individuals must be considerate in not waging internal wars upon one another, silent antagonism is just as effect as temper tantrums. Even more than this, I must focus my concentration upon my prayer life. My spiritual growth, grounded firmly in faith, hope, and charity, takes precedence. I am loyal and devoted to the path I have carved out for years. I suffer from the fault of being overly friendly, trying to make others happy to a fault of neglecting personal edification. My religious life transforms interiorly. I must be careful not to place too much importance upon being perceived as being holy more than becoming holy. Once again, becoming is more important than a reputation of being.
Yesterday, a second hike entertained the setting of the sun. Father James took me for a walk away from the abbey, driving to a natural reserve designated by the state. He is from North Dakota. I am amazed by the knowledge the men from the Dakotas, Minnesota, and Montana possess regarding their natural environment. It is educating to encounter. Plant life is identified, attributes distinguished. Invasive species are troubled over. Aggressive plants, those inedible to cattle and flourishing in growth, thus able to take over and dominate the land–controlled fires explained. The various kinds of prairie grasses pointed out. The tendencies and natures of trees. The wildlife. Erosion and the effects of water, snow melts and heavy summer rains. It is all quite interesting to encounter. Father James is one of many whose spiritual life impresses. I am encouraged with the invigoration to bolster my spiritual endeavors through respect, admiration, and interest. I relate the matter to basketball. The quality of my basketball skills are sharpened and exercised the greatest when performing with men exceeding my skill level.
I must prepare for a day of work with Brother Louis. I have more thoughts I want to exercise through journaling. The reason for the St Alphonsus Rodriguez quote last night and the Eucharist—a Maronite community in Massachusetts dedicated to the Eucharist. Overall, I am pleased, humble in the sight of God for having the courage to make this week possible.
…St Simon Stylites chose for his retirement to live upon a pillar forty cubits high and practiced such penance there as the like had never been known before. He was continually exposed to all the inconvenience of heat and cold; he passed whole Lents without eating or drinking, and added so many other austerities to these, that some, thinking it impossible for a man to undergo such rigorous penances, doubted whether or not he was really a man. Several fathers of the desert hearing of this strange new way of living, met to consul about it; and the result of their debate was to send a messenger to him in their names, who should say to him: What new kind of life is this that you lead? Why have you forsaken the high road marked out to us by so many saints, and taken this by-way which never man trod before? The fathers of the desert, from whom I come, have met in full assembly about you, and command you to come down from your pillar, to live like them, and to distinguish yourself no longer by such singularities…..He (messenger) had scare finished his words, “the fathers of the desert have ordered you to come down from your pillar,” but the saint put himself in a posture of descending and obeying their orders. The messenger seeing this great obedience, put the second part of his commission into execution, and spoke thus to the servant of God: “Take courage, father, and continue this sort of life with the same generosity you have begun to embrace it; it is God that has called you, your obedience declares it, and all the fathers of the desert are of this opinion.” Let us take notice here, on the one hand, how readily Stylites obeys, how soon he abstained from a holy action, to which he really believed God had called him; and on the other, in what esteem the ancient fathers held obedience and submission, since they really believed they needed no other proof of God’s having called him; and on the contrary, they require no other sign but disobedience to their orders, to conclude that his vocation was not from heaven. –St Alphonsus Rodriguez ‘The Practice of Christian & Religious Perfection III’
Reflections after Sunday mass,
I cannot help yet identify a call, a comforting quiet voice,
Something has been happening throughout my life,
Guiding and directing.
The Lord whispers sweetly. joy caressing,
Hymns sung softly, breathing aloud,
Within work conducted, prayers: experience, and study reflected,
The Eucharist stands, illuminating, shining forth.
The Poor Clares of Perpetual Adoration nurture.
In Adoration, the Benedictines at St Andrew Abbey reside.
Father Roger, humble and aware, exists with a sincere tantalizing smile.
Other matters I discard, a call opening a new identity.
Childish ways abandoned, inferior lashings lacking.
I will never identify as an alcoholic in North Dakota.
A past filled with corruption, sadness, and sin.
Maimed, wounded, and broken-hearted.
There is much cleansing to conduct, emptying and ridding.
I refuse to distinguish and muddle within that which is castoff.
Superfluous, exceeding the need of efficacy,
There is no need to focus identity upon the specifics of brokenness.
God wields a two-edge sword able to cut through all complications,
An open heart and mind surrendering receives,
Lord transform, gracing unification, the merging of wills,
Lord, I bow, presenting myself.
I bring others along, grace abounding,
I refuse to part from love, in this I cannot concede,
An intelligent son, witnessing, bright eyed and keen,
A family in need, loving conversion annealing,
Ann resides, coming along, burdening not at all,
Stinging in thought, anger extinguished,
Carried along in the beating of my heart,
The offering of my soul.