Friday, May 21, 2010

A Perfected Praise

Let the earth glorify the Lord, Glorify the Lord, O mountains and hills, and all that grows upon the earth, praise him and highly exalt him for ever.

- From the Benedicite, (Canticle 12 at Morning Prayer)

Most Mondays for the first dozen years or so of my ordained life, I woke early and headed out from a sleepy Forest Grove up into the Coast Range for an appointment: to celebrate the Holy Eucharist in the chapel of our Diocesan Anchoress, Sr. Marcia Hobart. [An Anchoress is a solitary monastic living under a Rule and in obedience to a Bishop.] When I was considering serving as Vicar of St. Bede’s, the Bishop told me part of accepting that call was to provide weekly sacramental support to Sr. Marcia. While I had done some reading on Eremitic spirituality, I had never before worked with an in-the-flesh hermit.

And so my faithful ’69 VW “Eggbert” and I came regularly to journey that 35 minutes up into the mountains, sometimes in the sun, many times in the rain, often in the fog. There were adventures in avoiding hitting various critters, negotiating washouts, tight quarters with log trucks, ice, and the other “opportunities of rural travel” along the way. When I arrived at the Anchorhold (Sr. Marcia’s residence, situated in a clearing in the woods), I would be greeted at the door with an embrace, vest for the liturgy, and then enter the tiny chapel of St. John the Baptist, where Sr. Marcia lived out so much of her vocation.

The chapel, though small, was complete in all its appointments. Perhaps best of all, though, was the large window above the altar looking out onto a glade in the forest. Here, in this remarkable and hidden spiritual jewel box, we entered week by week into the unchanging mystery of Redemption while the seasons passed before our eyes.

The glade went from the sodden barrenness of February to the explosive foliage of May in what seemed a heartbeat but was in fact Lent and Eastertide. We traced the record of the lives of the Saints on biting January mornings, with the hoarfrost hanging on every stiff stem and branch; we recalled those who had died in Christ at All Souls’ while the maples were turning their mellow gold. We praised the Holy Trinity while bathed in a summer morning’s rays, gave thanks for the ministry of angels while rain drummed on the roof, prayed for a good harvest cloaked in autumn fog, and mourned loved-ones to the doleful accompaniment of a “whistle punk” directing nearby logging. We celebrated the Incarnation, Atonement, Resurrection, and all the other mysteries of our Most Holy Faith as two tall trees in the distance (whom we named Peter and Paul) held silent vigil.

That long tutelage left its mark. No longer did I see any division between the natural world and the world of religious faith and practice. The altar had seamlessly merged with the glade, and both were holy places of encounter with the God who made all things. One of the central teachings of monasticism – that God is always and everywhere present and that the Christian lives with that conscious knowledge – gradually became the context for my life. For this I am profoundly grateful.

I also learned that being made in the image of the Holy Trinity meant that we are human beings, not human doings. It is for a restored and healed being that God has redeemed us. What we do is important, but it springs from who we are. This is all very hard to hold onto in our society and era, but it is a message a weary world desperately needs. When I am tempted to forget it, I recall those early morning Eucharists, when the forest, altar, and congregation became one with the God of all Being.

The liturgical color for the season after Pentecost is traditionally green, the color we associate with growth. Like plants, if our faith stops growing it is in fact dying. This time of year is not about taking a vacation from faith as we might from a job, but a season drawing the altar and the world together as Christ has drawn together heaven and earth. That is the challenge before us. When we live knowing that the present moment, the present encounter, the present place is on the threshold of eternity with God the Holy Trinity, then our praise is perfected and our lives, like the glorious Creation, shine with the light of God’s presence “as it was in the beginning, is now, and will be forever. Amen.”

(Photo: Rick Harper)

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