Saturday, October 22, 2011

Let’s have a show of hands…

Have you ever had the experience of being at an event or conference, thinking you were getting absolutely nothing out of it, certain it was a colossal waste of your time – only to be haunted by it - and, in the process of pondering it further, come to realize the experience was a metaphor for where you are in your life – and a HUGE gift which was waiting for you to unwrap it?

Oh good; I’m not alone then.

That was my experience this year at the retreat in New Mellary Abbey.

Let me say upfront that I love it there.

It’s beautiful, peaceful and serene.

The lack of ‘wordly’ distractions and the simplicity of the setting allows me to settle myself; allows the ancient rhythms of ‘being’- praying, chanting, reading and resting- to calm the chaos which is too often part of my life and psyche.

But I noticed a dissatisfaction and disappointment in aspects of my retreat time… right from 'the get go'…

my assigned room didn’t offer the spectacular view of last years accommodation, the weather wasn’t as conducive for long walks around the grounds...
but the biggest challenge was the Monk in charge of this years group sessions wasn’t the same one who led them last year and the one ‘on the schedule’ to lead them this year as well.

Father Jonah had been head of the Psychology department at the University of Iowa for decades; having the courage to act on a call to a contemplative religious life only late in his career and life.

He was (and I’m sure still is) insightful, funny, smart and, despite a significant visual impairment, ‘sees’ people and life very clearly.

He spoke a language that was familiar to me and he was so effective in sharing monastic practices that could be modified for those of us seeking to live a more intentionally spiritual life outside monastery walls that all of us were looking forward to more time with him.
But his mother died hours before the conference started and he was called away to his family home.

The person tapped to fill in for him, with no prep time, was Brother Ephraim and it was clear, after only half of the first session, that we were looking at a completely different experience.

Brother Ephraim has a brilliant mind, complete with multiple advanced degrees to prove it.
He is a Vietnam Vet who served overseas in the 60’s and came back with a heroin addiction.
After a three year stint as a cab driver in Chicago, while struggling with his drug habit, he has been in monastic life for over 25 years.

He has a gorgeous singing voice and can be heard at every service – seven times a day – 365 days/year, praising the God who saved him and promises him, and all of us, new life.

He is lanky (6’4”) and thin as a rail – the results of endless pacing and constant movement; he cannot be still outside of the sanctuary.

He has poor eye contact and even more limited social skills.
His train of thought frequently ‘jumped the track’ and was difficult to follow for all the esoteric sidelines he would take - complete with escalating tone of voice and push of speech.

For those of us in the medical field, he was easily identified as someone “on the spectrum” (the Autism Spectrum Disorder).

In short, there was nothing restful about him… in fact, watching him on one of his ‘rants’ was like watching a monastic Charlie Sheen having a meltdown.

Yet the funny thing is, while I can’t remember one thing about what he said, this retreat feels more powerful than the one last year.

Brother Ephraim’s certainty about the redeeming nature of Gods love, as played out in his own life, is a profound witness to all my own doubts.

God CAN, and does, use us - in all our brokenness; finding us no matter where, or in what substance, we try to hide.

I found this exoskeleton of a leaf while on a walk on monastery grounds – and it’s come to symbolize the spiritual work I still have to do.

I’m at the stage of life where ‘letting go’ seems to be the theme –
letting go of people I love,
relinquishing relationships I cherish,
needing to let go of more of my judgments,
adjusting even my image of my physical body which is changing in ways I never would have imagined (certainly in ways I never wanted)

… and a question that is never far away is -
how much can I lose and still retain enough of who I truly am to be recognizable –
to others, but more importantly, to myself?

How much can I let go – and still have enough substance to remain connected to where I am? And, if God created me specifically to be uniquely me, is all the 'letting go' getting me closer to what I'm called to be - or further away from it?

If you’ve stayed with me on my own rant so far, I hope you weren’t expecting any answers… because I don’t have them.

Jack Palance: "Do you know what the secret of life is?
One thing. Just one thing.
You stick to that and everything else don't mean shit."
Billy Crystal: "Yeah, but what's that one thing?"
Jack Palance: "That's what you've got to figure out."

~From the movie City Slickers

Sometimes just knowing you’re not alone while you’re figuring it out is gift enough.

Anybody still with me?

Haha...this is SO not the image I was expecting when I 'google imaged' "person with one hand raised"... but it seems to fit the tone of the post, so I'm going with it! Tho I must say I'm confused...does Jesus really need a crystal ball?

1 comment:

Mark said...

This is one of the most interesting posts I have ever read. This is a world I know nothing about, but how interesting. I love how you found the stand in more powerful, even though outwardly he seemed not as...smooth? as the first guy you had. A lot of food for thought in your writing today. Thank you