Isaiah 63:15-19, 64:1-9:
Look down from heaven and see, from your holy and glorious habitation. Where are your zeal and your might? The yearning of your heart and your compassion? They are withheld from me. For you are our father, though Abraham does not know us and Israel does not acknowledge us; you, O Lord, are our father; our Redeemer from of old is your name. Why, O Lord, do you make us stray from your ways and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you? Turn back for the sake of your servants, for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage. Your holy people took possession for a little while; but now our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary. We have long been like those whom you do not rule, like those not called by your name. O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence— as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil— to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence! When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence. From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him. You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed. We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity. Yet, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be exceedingly angry, O Lord, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.
After returning from Joplin, I stayed at the home of my blog friend Barbi and her family. Now, sitting out in their yard is certainly a little different than mine. There's certainly no vast expanse of pasture to look out across. Their home is in the middle of the city of St. Louis. It's an area that was once quite blighted, but is coming back. They have a way to go. The neighborhood still doesn't have anything within walking distance like a convenience store or coffee or food; the only thing nearby is a corner bar.
But I made a great discovery.
My ability to do my morning coffee and my Daily Office readings and my morning prayer time is much more portable than I once thought it was.
Historically, I've been a stickler for "things being in their proper places"--including me. I would have told you that "the proper place" for my morning prayer time is out in my yard, looking out at the expanse of my pasture, and that it just "won't work quite right" in another spot. Second place would be on my couch, looking at the candles in my "prayer corner" in the living room.
But I discovered, sitting out in that backyard tucked within the heart of a major city, that the prayer time was just as fruitful. I really couldn't even hear the urban noise in the background after a few minutes.
I think unless people really knew me well, they would be surprised at the amount of quiet time I spend. Out in the world, my guess is I am viewed as a very gregarious, even somewhat loquacious person. But unless you put the webcam on me and followed me around, you would probably not pick up on the amount of quiet time I have in a day. I think I'm an all or nothing kind of person--I'm either being the grandest extrovert you ever did see, or a very introverted introvert.
I have been a little adrift in terms of a monastic "center" ever since the shakeup at the Companions of St. Luke, in Iowa, that left them abbey-less and resulted in the people I was closest to in that order, leaving the order. It came literally three-and-one-half months after the huge shakeup of my own parish in 2009.
I felt literally homeless. There for a while I had not only lost my monastic "home," I was in constant fear of losing my parish "home," also. I won't deny now, almost two years later, it was a very lonely time in my life. I had felt literally a hair's breath of being "abandoned by God"--or at least all the people who seemed my conduit to God.
Debbie and Barbi are both associated with the Rivendell Community in SW Missouri. I need to find some time to go down there for a retreat.
But this summer, I am really missing not being at least a "visiting" part of a monastic community. I also have just recently started attending the Skyped once-a-week Evening Prayer sessions of the Anamchara Fellowship. I am intrigued by them for two reasons; one, that they at least try to connect to each other with Internet technology, and two, I like their roots in Celtic spirituality.
But yes, I am feeling the "tug" of the need of a monastic "home" again.
I am a bit of a solitary when the work day is over, no doubt about it. Yeah, ok, maybe more than a "bit." But a solitary without a community grounded in Scripture and the Church is just a sarabaite, not accountable to anyone else. Accountability is important to me. Being alone without accountability just gets me in spiritual trouble. I don't listen to God so well, but start listening to that little demon of "self." I've said it before--I need fences. Rather imposing ones at that.
My spiritual director says I am an odd combination of attributes. He refers to me as a person capable of both strong loving obedience, but at the same time, an iconoclast. I don't obey out of fear well at all, yet my borders need to be imposing. Strong enough to withstand my episodes of trying to tear them apart. It's almost like, "If my boundaries are able to be torn apart by me, I no longer respect them." If I decide I cannot single-handedly destroy them, I willingly and lovingly abide by them.
I have lived much of my adult life under an oath--the oath of Geneva, the modern version of the Hippocratic Oath. In it I promised to practice my art, the art of medicine, with the patient foremost in my mind, to keep the secrets entrusted to me, to treat my colleagues as kin, and teach the younger generation of physicians the precepts of this art, not just the technical details.
It is an oath I pushed at once upon a time and found bigger than me. From that point on, I served her willingly and lovingly.
I desire a similar situation in my spiritual life. I need to be obedient to God above and beyond my Baptismal covenant. Now, that's not to say my Baptismal Covenant is an insufficient guide, it's a VERY sufficient guide. But I always need one step more. One more strand of wire on the fence...because I always push against the fence. That doesn't make me "bad" or "willful" or anything negative. It's simply that if I have just a little bit higher ideal, I will almost always live the basic guide better, as the person God intends for me to be, and I become just a little notch more in tune with what the needs of God's kingdom is. Why does a Marine want to be a Marine? Why does a soldier want to be a Ranger or Airborne, or a Green Beret? Why does a sailor want to be a SEAL? Because being in that "elite unit" makes them a more solid core of the sailor or soldier they were called to be. It is not so much the "prestige" of the unit but the sense of tradition and history that spurs them to pay it forward.
I've come to realize I pay God's kingdom forward better when I am called to embrace a higher ideal. Period. Other people benefit more from this mindset in me.
But back to my morning prayer time at Barbi and Debbie's back yard.
I have also come to realize it is that core spiritual discipline of reading the Daily Office, and praying in my own silence, that helped me weather that time when I felt homeless. I still had a "home" in the disciplined reading of Scripture and the reading aloud of Psalms, in lectio divina fashion. I won't go so far as to say "it kept me stable" (I definitely had my unstable, fearful days and weeks in that) but it kept me as stable as I could be under the circumstances. I have come to have a gratitude about that beyond my ability to explain it. That's the only way I can describe it.
Look down from Heaven and see. For me it's seeing a path "home," no matter where I am.