17 February 2010

Ash Wednesday

It has been a while since my last post, and I apologize for that. I have had a lot on my mind -- in a very good way.

Back in January I had mentioned a little bit about our community retreat. I must say I did find it funny that so many people asked me where we went for the retreat. I may have hurt a few feelings when I said, "What part of 'Enclosed Monastery' do you not understand?" Mea Culpa

The retreat was led by Mother Nikola, the Abbess of Minster Abbey near Canterbury in Kent. She gave two talk a day for a week. Most of her talks were about life in choir. Physically, The choir is two sets of wooden seats (stalls) that face each other across the church. Choir is where monks and nuns come together to pray the Divine Office. It is a major part of the life of any monk or nun, and the raison d'ĂȘtre for us that are enclosed.

The choir is a microcosm of what is going on in one's community life and a macrocosm of what is going on in one's own mind. With a little bit of introspection one can learn a lot about themselves and about the health of the community around them. Community life here is healthy. People do not absent themselves from the Divine Office or Mass. I have seen that in other communities, and it seems to be very painful. And how people responded to others' errors is also pretty good. Often, we just get on with the office; once in a while there is a laugh; but, I have never seen sneers, "tsks", or the like.

How I respond to the people around me says more about me than them: The other day I was quite frustrated with one of my brothers. It was a solemnity. So the hymn was in one book, the antiphons and responsories were in three parts of another book, plus there is the psalter. This brother was flipping back and forth in his book trying to find his place. I tried to assist, but he resisted my help. [How dare he!] After the Office, I stayed in church for a few minutes to pray out my frustration. I feel the Lord really spoke to me. He let me know that my frustration was with myself [long story] and my trying to control the situation with my brother was just winding me up tighter. If I stopped trying to control the situation, that my frustration would go away. The next couple times he was lost with his books, I offered help. Once he let me help and once he did not. Both times I went with the flow, and both times I felt better.

Mother Nikola also spoke about the manner in which we sing the psalms. One side says one stanza, and the other side says the next, and we go back and forth until the psalm is concluded with the "Glory be." Mother Nikola reminded us that we are not taking turns, but we are sharing the Word of God between us. We give a stanza, and we receive a stanza. I have found this most helpful. Now when I get distracted during the office, I remind myself to either "Give" or "Receive" with each stanza.

And now we begin the holy season of Lent. This year, instead of the abbot assigning a book, we have been told to choose a book on the Venerable John Henry Newman. As well as spiritual reading it is our preparation for his upcoming beatification. I do not know which book I will read: whether is is by Newman or about Newman. But I will keep you posted.

God's Blessings and Peace to you all.