Friday, September 17, 2010

Nailed to the Present Moment

I think that all the times I've been powerfully affected by the Presence of God have been times when I was both deeply at peace and also in emotional torment.  It sounds contradictory, but that must be part of it too.  Anguish alone is insufficient.  But accepting it and relaxing into it seems to be key.  Not that you can force anything.  For God is always in charge of such events.  But waiting on God is not some rarefied intellectual exercise.  It wrenches us... down to our roots!

Probably the last time I felt "nailed" was last Fall.  Right before I fell headlong into Orthodoxy.  One hand nailed to a sense that workers were needed in the vineyard (the vast majority of catholics, bereft of spiritual care, reeling from abuse scandals); the other hand nailed to the remnants of authentic spiritual tradition, borne and transmitted through just a few monastic orders.  Indeed, I became convinced the Cistercians, for example, could so easily feel at home in Orthodoxy.  Nailed!  But just one step away.

And while the reason for this post does involve Cistercians, it's really about something else entirely.  Something I have yet to truly plumb in all its depth.  Something I'll likely be pursuing for the rest of my life.  The reason, actually, for the two new blogs (see sidebar - under musical note).  Both blogs spring from one poem.  And like the "burning bush" that came to me as a drawing, that poem holds a lot.

The unlikely setting for my revelation was a massage. 

The unlikely circumstances?  A few weeks after the ill-fated election of 2004.  The dishwasher had died.  Along with my hopes.  We were participating in a consumer boycott.  I was not attending church of any type, but had written this fateful piece of fiction.    I had just recovered from a bad cold that had prevented me from surreptitiously placing said fiction here and there (to aid the boycott).  Never did do that.  Instead, wham!  (Curiously... we never got around to replacing the dishwasher.  Not till last week, just before I felt moved to write this.)

I was lying there, near the end of a long massage, thinking that I needed to recenter my life, myself.  When suddenly came the words:  I'm supposed to be a priest.  Not that I heard a voice.  But I knew.  I knew something so powerful that there and then I soberly reviewed my options.  There was no going back.  I had to go forward in this knowledge.  I was completely and totally relaxed.  Yet entirely focused and alert.

Now I won't go into all the adventures this led me to.  All the soul searching.  Some beneficial wrong turns.  The blessings that came my way.  In pursuit of this revelation.  This inner demand.  Which threw my life into a turmoil.  Turning me inside out and upside down.  But there was no going back.  Nor was there a clear way forward.  Indeed, as I have already said, I will likely be pursuing this for the rest of my life.

So what does it mean?

Well, to answer that I must return to a Cistercian monastery.  I love this particular place.  I may return this Fall.  Lovely drive.  Especially in Fall.  I'll go this time with great peace of mind.  To reflect.  To relax.  Read.  Sleep.  Meditate.  Nice room and meals.  Some grounds to walk.  An austere chapel.  Silence.  I'll see what emerges in that silence.

The last time I found a book.  It was a book that held the answer.  Rarely does such a thing happen.  It may never happen again.  But I picked up a slim volume.  And I read it practically in one sitting.  Because even its preface told me that the answer lay within.  It used the words:  spiritual priesthood.  As the secret of the heart That was it!

Rarely do writers distill their thoughts so succinctly.  But this was an elderly Cistercian nun - serving up the fruit of her monastic life.  In very simple language.  Quoting Orthodox writers on prayer of the heart.   Indeed her greatest mentor, it seemed, had been a Cistercian monk.  A monk who later converted to Orthodoxy.  She spoke of the spiritual life as giving birth to what she termed spiritual being.  And she described that new order of being as spiritual priesthood. 

That was it!  It seemed she had explained me to myself. 

I found confirmation in another tiny book.  A book on liturgical prayer.  Which spoke of "the priesthood common to all believers" and praying the psalms as the prayer of the church:  Sharing in Christ's priesthood;  praising God; and entering into the sufferings of the world.

That was it!  I'm pondering it still.... 


claire bangasser said...

Beautiful, TheraP... Interesting that you felt called to become a priest. At a retreat in August, I felt I needed to consecrate myself to Godde. But then I have felt this before. Not easy to consecrate oneself when one is wife, mother and grandmother...

I also very much agree with your original statement, Nailed in the present moment... it is absolutely true. I have felt in the past that it would be nice to provoke such moments, as they are so incredibly powerful and memorable. But they only come when as you say one is in great pain and simultaneously accepting it...

I hope you write more often. It is always a treat to visit you here.

TheraP said...

What a lovely comment, Claire!

Actually the "call to priesthood" is one I had put away long, long before what I write about. I felt it as a child. Used to say "Mass" in the woods near our house when I was about 9 or so. We used dry fish food for wafers. In college I felt the call very strongly. Painfully so. But I put it away and was at peace with it. I came to the conclusion that I wouldn't have made a good parish priest anyway. Then this happened... Threw me for a loop! I was nearly 60 then.

Consecrating oneself to God. I felt that way when converting to Orthodoxy. I'm so at peace in the Orthodox church. Though, as I said to one person by email, "I have trouble turning my hours into prayer."

I am doing much writing at the new two blogs I referenced in this post. This one is for more personal material. The others are more for fleshing out scripture and spirituality as I circle all the many meanings I am gleaning from this experience.

You can read Sister Jean Marie in French. The original retreat was given at Mont des Cats at the request of Andre Louf. Wonderful little book!

I just write when the time ripens ... I can't force anything.

Peace be with you.