Spending the better part of a day in intermittent prayer shifts one’s focus a bit. Either that or fatigue from being up so early clouds the mind. In any case, I find myself focusing on the smallest of details, grace notes common to the monastic life and missing, generally, in the rest of the world. Some of my friends protest that the monastic life is not real. I’m finding that, however structured and artificial by the standards of the world, the daily routine of life here is more real than one can imagine.
I’ve spent the day in the company of men and women who freely discuss the movement of God in their lives and work, in a world where talking about God is the norm and not the aberration. I’ve spent the day interrupting my activities at regular intervals to turn my mind and heart to the source of my being. Perhaps most remarkable of all I have spent the day with people who know how to use and manipulate the art of appearances to get at deeper truths rather than trying to obscure truths by changing the looks of things.
I live with one of these folks, for whom the camera lens and the digital darkroom are a means of communicating the deepest of thoughts. For one who traffics in words, spending much of the day quiet and “listening” to images—videos and stills, color and monochrome, real-life and doctored has been an experience in getting in touch with my non-verbal self, easy given that I would rather write words than speak them in any case. Those emotions that my confessor has compelled me to spend time with have been very near the surface today. Good images and silence will do that.
One of the presenters is a photographer for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. His images are from the world of reporting, documentary more than interpretation and often scenes from a world I know all to well, the world of death and chaos. Images of fires, accidents, arrests, murders……More than once I found myself close to tears as the images called up memories I would much rather forget. He reminded me again how very broken the world is and how helpless we often are to fix it. I know how hard it is to be the one documenting such brokenness. He does it with his lens. I used to do it with my reports. Sometimes it seems that neither of us is much use in fixing what's wrong.
Thanks be to God—really—that the next presenter was one whose eyes see God in the word of creation, not destruction. Normally, I’m not much for nature photography but today, on the heels of the all-too-real world of photojournalism, I gloried in the images of blossoms and butterflies. It reminded me that, in the days when I was a medical examiner, he remedy for my soul was often a walk in the woods. Images, antidote to misery. No wonder that wherever one turns ones eyes in this place, there is something to see and ponder, man made or gift of the Creator.
Best of all were the prayers of evening. Vespers were taken in part from the lovely words of John: I and the Father are one…you are mine…. And always the psalms. Sing enough of them during the day and they taken on a connectedness. One follows the psalmist through all of life in the course of the day,
Compline ended, as it always does, with the hope of a quiet night and a peaceful death, all the more poignant with the death of Father Malachy. The voices of the monks raised themselves in singing Salve Regina, perhaps the most beautiful hymn to Mary in all of the world, lovely Latin worlds, strong male voices singing the praise of the Mother of God, our own mother by grace. And finally, again, the blessing, heading off to bed with the holy water hardly dry on my head.
I know my calling is in the world at large, not in a world behind walls. But it is good, sometimes, to come and be refreshed in this place of sights and songs and silence.