Andy finished his errand, and came straight back to the Crown and Anchor. He grabbed a Guinness, and in not just a few minutes, Jo and Emma arrived. They knew Andy already so it was an unexpected reunion for them. The next 90 minutes was a whirl of multiple conversations, a sense of something new in the midst of the strangely familiar (again) and three more people to love.
In the midst of catching up on bits of news from the NC Forum and frankly, getting to know these folks we had, in a sense, just met, there were moments of story telling that Andy and I shared, comparing notes, interviewing one another, establishing a common vocabulary on things spiritual and listening intently for cues for where God might be at work. It was one of those stretches of electrified time.
We had to move along because the tide was about to turn and we had to make our way off the island and to Nether Springs. But Andy very much wanted us all to meet his wife Anna, so he lead us down the lane to “settled” where 7 of us burst in on his unsuspecting family. Let’s just say that it was clear that this was not the first time they had experienced this kind of thing.
We embraced and quickly said our goodbyes and spoke of the possibility of meeting again in the next day or two . . . Then back across the causeway to the mainland, leaving the Upper Springs and heading South to the Nether Springs.
In a sense, this was” it”.
This would be the center piece of the trip. After all, historical family connections aside, we might have travelled to Malawi, or Brazil, or Antarctica if it wasn’t for the connection we have established with Nether Springs.
We arrived to a quiet house and a warm welcome from Rich and Adam, members of the House Team. Ingrid, another team member gave us the shake-down tour, helped us get settled into our rooms, and before we knew it, the bell rang out from the cloisters, calling everyone in the house to Evening Prayer.
This is the essence of the monastic life: you stop whatever activity you find yourself in the midst of, and you turn your attention Inward and Upward. It doesn’t matter if you are working, playing arriving or departing . . . all activity, all human endeavor is simply a corollary to our connection with God, and so it only makes sense, it simply serves as an expression of honest living, to put aside all corollary activity in order to give Him our attention.
Mono-Astic: pursuing the ONE thing necessary.
This was the first time I had ever said Evening Prayer in a group. The first time I had sung the Canticle with others, the first time I had said an office with my whole family, the first prayer I had offered at the Mother House . . . And while it was not what I expected . . . It was what I had hoped for.
Over the course of the rest of the evening, we had dinner in the Refectory and we were introduced to most of the rest of the house team and a handful of other visitors.
Afterward, I went for a walk amongst the sharp evening shadows, and found that Nether Springs is as much a working farm as it is anything else. Three hogs penned and working to clear the brush would also become sausage in a year or so . . . a thank you for their help. A good sized heard of beef cows right next door, and acre upon acre of wheat and barley surround the place.
I waded into a waist deep field of grain until it felt like the middle, and slowly turned 360 degrees to take in the place.
Land of my fathers . . .
20 minutes later, as the the gravel of the parking lot crunched under my shoes on my return, the bell rang out again, calling me and the rest of the house to Compline.
Even mystical journeys of self-discovery, exploring ancient family connections and thrilling adventure are merely shadows of the one thing necessary: God.
It’s this essence of simply longing for more of God, seeking Him with your whole heart, soul, mind and body that is the draw of monactisim for me. Over the last few years as I have explored this, discussed it and studied it, I received some strange looks. There has been some good natured ribbing, and I’m sure that there have been a few whispers here and there. But here’s the deal: seeking the truth, longing for more of God, by definition, MUST take you to apparently, (sometimes actual) strange places. If you NEVER get questioned about the books on your shelf, the amount of time you spend alone in quiet contemplation or how you spend your money, then I question whether you see God as the one thing necessary.
Don’t get me wrong; simply doing “questionable things” is not the same as seeking God. In fact it’s the opposite; it’s pursuing a desired image in the eyes of those around you by APPEARING to seek God. The goals are altogether different.
Imagine two kindergarten students. Both are given a piece of paper with an intricate design on it, a red crayon and instructions to color in the design . . . completely fill it up with red, don’t leave a single, tiny point within the design uncolored . . . .the “one thing necessary” is to get the design completely filled.
The child who doesn’t get it, will come to the inner edge of the line and stop, leaving tiny ( sometimes even large) gaps fear of going outside the lines . . . a rule they had assumed or been taught elsewhere and they are very afriad of being seen as disobedient.
The child who DOES get it will dig her crayon into the paper like a lumberjack digs his saw into a tree. The color will inevitably stab over the lines in places, because the obedient little child is working to accomplish the ONE THING NECCESSARY. Yes . . . There is color outside the lines. No, this is not the goal . . . BUT there is no fear . . . Why would the child spend any more energy on coloring outside the lines once she sees she’s crossed it, if her GOAL is to color inside the lines? The obedient child recognizes the total waste of effort and resources, and readjusts her approach . . .there is little wasted, and she is not TRYING to color outside the lines. She is trying to do the one thing she was asked to do.
Later, when the teacher cuts away the extraneous paper from around the colored designs, the child who did not understand is handed back an incomplete picture, with gaps in the corners, streaks and empty patches . . . A mongrel portrait. the child who understood, watches as the useless bits of paper, some blotched with her mistakes . . . her scratches that fell outside the lines, fall away to the floor, forgotten, and what is left is a lovely, complete drawing, pleasing to her teacher.
I smiled and picked up my pace as I headed up the walkway to put aside the day, and give thanks to the One who made it.