Monks and Incarnation

I sometimes wonder about my reading and viewing choices during the holidays, and how out of sync they are with the mood of the season.

What drew me to pick up the book The Last Monk of Tibhirine by Freddy Derwahl and ask for, receive as a gift, and subsequently view on Christmas evening Of Gods and Men, the film based on the martyrdom of the seven monks, eludes me.  I am happily out of sync with popular culture as well, and when the movie made a big splash at Cannes in 2010, I was elbow deep in changing diapers and growing my family.  No time to get to the movies.

However, I have always been fascinated by Christian monasticism, particularly as practiced by the Trappist monks, so when the story surfaced of monks who set up their monastery in the heart of a Muslim community in Algiers, to spread the gospel by service to the poor and suffering, and who were then abducted by an Islamic terrorist group and brutally killed, I wanted to know more of their story.

But is this sad story meant for the holiday season?

That question was on my mind even as I watched the film, its slow, meditative pace reminiscent of the documentary Into Great Silence (there’s something about putting monks on film that demands everything slow down).

Then came Brother Christian’s words on the Incarnation.  The very celebration we are in the midst of this week.

The monks are faced with the conundrum of abandoning the community and their monastery for their own safety, or staying and suffering with, even to the point of death, the poor Muslim community they serve.  Many heartfelt, agonizing meditations and conversations are dwelt on regarding this matter- it is the primary drive of the narrative.  Brother Christian’s mind is already made up- he is staying.  To offer some reason for this, he offers this reflection on the Incarnation to his fellow monk, Brother Luc:

I’ve often thought of that time. That time when Sayah Attia and his men left.
Once they were gone, all we had left to do was to live.
And the first thing we did was… two hours later.
We celebrated the Christmas Vigil and Mass.

It’s what we had to do. It’s what we did.
And we sang the Mass. We welcomed that Child
who was born for us absolutely helpless and…
and already so threatened.

Afterwards, we found salvation in undertaking our daily tasks.
The kitchen, the garden, the prayers, the bells.
Day after day.
We had to resist the violence.
And day after day, I…. I think each of us discovered
that to which Jesus Christ beckons us.
It’s … to be born.
Our identities as men go from one birth to another.
And from birth to birth, we’ll each end up
bringing to the world the child of God that we are.

The Incarnation, for us, is to allow the filial reality of Jesus
to embody itself in our humanity.
The mystery of Incarnation remains what we are going to live.
In this way what we’ve already lived here
takes root as well as…
what we’re going to live in the future.

(excerpted from the film Of Gods and Men and Christopher Page’s blog In a Spacious Place)

We must, as brothers and sisters in Christ, be willing to be born anew each day, and to see that birth in others as well.  As Christians we are literally “little Christs” and the Incarnation thus rests in us as well.  And as Jesus said in Matthew 25:

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Therefore, Christ is within the eyes of those we meet each day as well.  He surrounds us, binds us with His love, and our duty is to show that to others.  To have it “embody itself in our humanity.”

…even to the point of death, whether that means facing it ourselves, grieving with others through it, or standing up against it when injustice rears its head.

Bring to the world who you are as a child of God, as He brought Himself.

Amen.

“Do it again.”

One of my favorite quotes from any book on faith comes from GK Chesterton’s Orthodoxy: 

“Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”

Our Father’s youth is that eternal Hope that raises us up after we fall.  And for those like me, whose addictions and impulses make falling a fairly regular occurrence (read: daily),

when I don’t feel like getting up,

when it is so much easier to wallow in the muck and mire of past mistakes,

when I’ve gone to bed the night before feeling like a failure,

when there is just no way I can deal with this anymore,

when my job becomes tough and I’m not sure what kind of teacher I am to my students,

Jesus reaches out his hand to pull me up.

And says “Walk with me.

I’m here.

Come to me.

Do it again.

I’m always here.”

Despair feels old, doesn’t it?  And after the heck of the week I’ve had, with nice highs and real lows, it’s good to see the sun rise outside my window.  The daily new beginning.

A student told me I was already one of his favorite teachers.  “Even though you work us real hard.”  Smile there.

In the same class, a girl came up to me after the bell, tears in her eyes.

“Please move my seat next week, the boy next to me says bad things to me.”

She’s being bullied, and I didn’t catch it.  No smile there.  Please pray for her.

Highs and lows.

But, says the Lord, walk into the classroom again.  No, you didn’t fail.  Yes, you will have to address the issue.  Yes it will be tough.

No, do not despair.

I’m always here.

Do it again.

 

 

Dwelling in Salvation

I heard an interesting term today.

“Morbid humility.”

I’m an avid follower of beautifulsilliness’s blog– if haven’t heard of her, for crying out loud get off this blog and go over there and recently she posted on her thoughts on a theologian named Tozer.  Never heard of him before, so ever the “I gotta know it” guy, I looked him up and found a series of audio files featuring his sermons from the 1950s and 1960s.  I linked onto one in particular which I felt might speak to my situation and it certainly did.  A.W. Tozer identified “morbid humility” as that characteristic which marks the penitent sinner who dwells in their unworthiness and does not make the effort with God to attend to the commandment given in Philippians 2:12-13:

“Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.”

Work it out.

We don’t earn salvation; it is a gift freely given.  But it is a gift meant to be used, to be explored, to be a healing force, a healing action in our lives.

Sometimes it’s not that I’m dwelling in sin, but I’m not dwelling in salvation.

When Jesus meets me at the bottom of my personal barrels

-I’ve substituted, once again,  perhaps, a vacuous, addictive pleasure or impulse for a truer connection to Christ or others-

Am I receiving His loving grace, His unconditional Love, His care and concern and desire to be with me despite my failings…

with Joy?

with recognition?

with relief at His immensity and furious Love for me?

or…

am I anticipating the next time I will screw up?

Am I dwelling in shame?  Remorse?  Guilt?

or doing the Shame+ Power thing, which comes up with the statement that “I’ll never do it again,” trying to use the power of my guilt to build some false sense of security against future attacks?

Been doing that for a while.

I’m so tired.

And I’m starting to realize how many blessings I have that I literally do not have the energy to enjoy or recognize because of that exhaustion.

yet before I start guilt-tripping myself over that

What’s it like to dwell in salvation?

I just took a deep breath.  Maybe it feels something like that.

But it is more.  It is the courage to work with God toward the reordering of my life.  To believe it possible and strive toward it.  Just to even see it.

For crying out loud, Zacchaeus climbed a tree, looking a fool in front of everyone, just to get a glimpse of Jesus.

He climbed a tree, Jesus saw, Jesus wanted to come into Zacchaeus’ house.

To dwell with him.

When Jesus said “I must stay at your house today,” I think Zacchaeus already knew salvation had come.

Zacchaeus acted on that.  He turned his whole life around, right then and there.  For him, it was making amends for financial misdeeds in the past.

What does dwelling in salvation look like for me?  What does the freedom Christ offers look like for me?

Pray I dwell on that a bit longer, and keep trusting in His will.

 

Absolutely More

Well, I’m back in the mix, and what a tiring day!  I’m a teacher by trade- high school English- and our “preplanning” sessions have begun.  A week of preparation before the onslaught of 3200 kids!  Classrooms to get ready, new learning protocols to adopt and adapt to, and of course, readying the spirit and soul for the unexpected!

I think of the number of things that are on my plate, and I get almost dizzy:

1. I’ve been made department chair, so I have added responsibilities of keeping together a growing and changing English Department.

2. I am teaching two preps: AP English Lit and British Literature/History

3. I am taking two grad school classes for my master’s study in literature.

4. I am blessed to be chosen as an LEV (lay eucharistic visitor) at my church, bringing the holy bread and wine to those who cannot join us in church.

5. I am blessed to be leading our children’s program at church once a month.

6.  Chesterton Society meetings

7.  I am continuing counseling to heal my addictions and anxieties

All of these are blessings, but you can perhaps see how they might be a bit overwhelming, especially for this frazzled, disorganized follower of Christ.

However.

Recently a former student posted on Facebook that “Whoever said God never gives you anything you can’t handle is having a joke on me and God!”

Hmmm.

I remembered a quote from a book and went to dig it out for a response.

Ah, here it is.  From Kisses from Katie by Katie Davis.

“I believe that God totally, absolutely, intentionally gives us more than we can handle.  Because this is when we surrender to Him and He takes over, proving Himself by doing the impossible in our lives.”

Well, okay then!

I surrender!  🙂

Peace to you all, especially all you teachers and students!

From Ragman (and other cries of faith) by Walt Wangerin, Jr.

 hands shaking

You say: “But how can I serve the Lord?  I’m not important.  What I do is so common and of little consequence.  Anyone can do what I do.”

But I say to you: “Every time you meet another human being you have the opportunity.  It’s a chance at holiness.  For you will do one of two things, then.  Either you will build him up, or you will tear him down.  Either you will acknowledge that he is, or you will make him sorry that he is- sorry, at least, that he is there, in front of you.  You will create, or you will destroy.  And the things you dignify or deny are God’s own property.  They are made, each one of them, in his own image.”

And I say to you:  “There are no useless, minor meetings.  There are no dead-end jobs.  There are no pointless lives.  Swallow your sorrows, forget your grievances and all the hurt your poor life has sustained.  Turn your face truly to the human before you and let her, for one pure moment, shine.  Think her important, and then she will suspect that she is fashioned of God.”

Words from the Magic Monastery

prayer chapel

a book by Theophane the Monk:

I asked an old monk, “How do I get over the habit of judging people?”

He answered, “When I was your age, I was wondering where would be the best place to go to pray.  Well, I asked Jesus that question.  His answer was, ‘Why don’t you go into the heart of my Father?’  So I did.  I went into the heart of the Father, and all these years that’s where I’ve prayed.  Now I see everyone as my own child.  How can I judge anyone?”