I think I have found the secret to staying awake during the half-hour meditation that follows the reading separating the nocturnes: find a spot on the floor in view of the tabernacle and sit on the hard, stone floor with no support for the back. Even the most penitential of chairs, even the choir stall, offers too much comfort for a body not used to rising in the middle of the night.
Rising is worth it once the shock of unwanted wakefulness passes. The psalms this morning reminded us that even in the middle of chaos, God is at work. I took particular note of the one that said “the nations rage, the kingdoms totter, He utters His voice and the Earth melts.” It’s a reminder that no matter how difficult or uncertain material life is, God grounds it all and is not absent from it. All we need do is look and He is there. Maybe not even look. Maybe just be still and close our eyes.
Nothing that happens these days is really new; humankind is not that inventive. It simply becomes personal. The commentary I’m reading says that this psalm also refers to the Church, the New Israel. Even in the middle of terrible scandals, God is there, the Holy Spirit is still present in the Church, and she is still the Body and the Bride of Christ. It’s a psalm against despair, I think. There is always a reason that tempts despair, but then again, there’s always—more always—God. We ended with a meditation by St. Augustine on the Trinity, the ineffable, inseparable mysterious community that is our God. If God cannot be pulled apart, perhaps we made in His image ought not be either.
The retreat house is so still. The next office is at 7, when we will sing lauds and celebrate mass. Some of us—even some of the monks-- are back in bed to catch a few extra minutes of sleep. I’ve decided not to do that. I am awake, there is time unaccounted for in my day. If I am to enter into this monastic life even for a few days, it seems better to keep as few ties to my ordinary life as I can. As much as I hate changes, it seems best to really enter into them and let life catch up.
My thoughts wandered far afield this morning during meditation as I looked at the simple, beautiful tabernacle against its gold backdrop, light above it, behind it and before it. My confessor (he of the demanding penances) asked me to spend some time with my emotions over the next few days as I wait, sometimes more patiently than others, for my husband’s impending surgery. I am too tired to have many emotions at 4 in the morning, absent some acute crisis like a sick child or an impending evacuation for a hurricane, so my mind drifted back to memories instead.
It was a natural enough thing; I was sitting near Father Anthony, whose book on contemplation I have just finished. It starts with his reflections on his life as a way to begin to let God in, to settle old hurts and shed new light. I could hear him shift in his chair and found myself wondering what he might be thinking about. It underscored the alone-ness that is the reality of existence—the only minds we ever truly enter into are our own; every experience and person is filtered through our own selves, no matter how close we are to one another. Absent God, such a realization is terrifying. In Him, there’s the blinding possibility of bridging, in some mysterious way, that separation—both from God and from each other.
Relationship. As foundational to life as God Himself, who is, after all, God in relationship. Everything created exists in one sense alone, but nothing exists without some connection to the rest of creation. We are loved into existence individually, but not separately (with apologies to Henri de Lubac and Robert Barron). I’m beginning to see the edges, at least, of that truth.
For some reason, I thought back to the early days of my marriage, that relationship that grounds and drives and feeds and sustains my life. I realized, much to my surprise, that although I can remember with great clarity the day my husband proposed, we had decided long before then and even announced to our parents that we would marry. There was a period in which our life together had in some sense begun but we had not yet made it visible to the rest of the world or perhaps even made it completely real to ourselves. The sign and symbol, the ring of promise (let alone the ring of matrimony), was not even selected, let alone placed. The reality had not been fulfilled; it was all expectancy but it was real.
It strikes me that my life with Christ is like that. I can recall with great clarity my entry at long last into His Church, but the beginnings of that courtship, like the day my groom and I really decided to marry, are lost to me even when I try so hard to remember. I suppose the event has lost its contours and become so integrated into my being that it can no longer be distinguished. But one thing is certain—just as the Song of Songs details, I was wooed and won long before I was wed and that relationship, like my marriage and through it, feeds my very soul. Sitting on the cold stone floor of a quiet Church, I am simply glad.