Lunch . . . I think I have given Daniel a bad rap. Maybe all of his careful instructions before Friday night’s opening meal were required listening. Maybe I needed that preamble to allow me to work the verbosity out of my system. Maybe his voice and the reciting of the code of conduct was God working through him as a way to get my attention away from the mind-numbing nattering in my own head.
Ding a ling a ling!
Ding a ling ling!
Ding a ling a ling!
Ding a ling ling!
Once again, we are summoned to a simple meal in the dining room. I filed in to find my seat. Would I take the same seat I had yesterday? Would my friends join me? Should I branch out and take a new seat in another location? This was all useless chatter as the decision was made for me. Someone took the seat I had last evening. In response, I did not stray too far taking the seat next to my old one where Rosa had sat the night before. This set off a chain reaction of seating changes. Rosa moved one seat down, but next to me. There was now no room for Ruth so she moved across the room on the other side of the u-shaped arrangement. Lupe, who came in late, had to fend for herself finding a non-descript corner seat. The seating ritual was settled.
Next, the water pitchers were fetched by two well-meaning women. They poured water for all of us even responding as new people entered, well after Daniel’s ringing of the chimes. Glasses were filled. Places were assumed. Daniel entered from the kitchen with a sheaf of papers in his hand.
“We have assumed a new practice here at Holy Cross. If you would like, the monks and I will pray for you specifically. All you have to do is complete one of these prayer request forms and leave it on my chair in the hallway.”
Hrrrmmmppph! We have a prayer team at Commonwealth Baptist which does a more than adequate job of taking care of my unspoken needs. What more do I need? But the idea of being prayed for by a monk-in-training (Daniel) and the remaining monks of Holy Cross is very appealing. So what should I do? Stealthily pick up a form, take it to my room, write out my request and sneak it back to his chair? Do I sign it or just leave that detail out — God knows who I am, doesn’t He? Or, maybe I should just “let it all hang out” as we used to say in the 70s? And does this whole line of thinking brand me as shallow or just plain ridiculous? I can’t worry about this right now as the chow line has started and I am the fourth chair in line for a square of lasagna, garlic bread, and salad.
As we progress through the line, Daniel starts where he left off.
“Simplicity is not asceticism. Asceticism is the practice of doing without things. Simplicity is the practice of using all that you have in practical, non-ostentations ways.”
I had never thought of that before. Nor had I wondered whether or not God had an opinion about Costco, but now I do. I think He’d love it if we used all that we acquired at their warehouse prices. I bet He’d hate the mindless spinning I do down every aisle looking for something I don’t need at a price I can’t refuse. Think of all the shopping carts he’s tracking right now at Target, T.J. Maxx, Steinmart, Macy’s, Barnes & Noble, etc. (Oh please, God, don’t put look-outs at Steinmart and Barnes & Noble . . . they’re my favorites!) Or, just think about the internet! Imagine God or one of those angels like Clarence from It’s A Wonderful Life earning his or her wings by reporting what earthlings have on their wishlists or in their carts. I can hear them chortling now, “Guess who’s going to have a hard time getting through that eye of the needle!”
Or, maybe, just maybe, he’s not thinking about any of this. Instead, what if he’s pondering new ways to get my attention so that I quit filling my shopping basket mindlessly? What if he’s betting ON me and not AGAINST me making it through the eye of that needle. Maybe just maybe he wants all of us to make it through. After all, isn’t heaven supposed to be infinite? If it is, what difference does it make if me and the rest of humanity end up there? If you think like that, why should we even spend one iota of energy fearing we won’t make the cut? Why not focus on the fact that we might make it? What’s wrong with aspiring to that end? And by the way, while we’re on this subject, what’s wrong with failing — stumbling and then getting back up again? Isn’t that how any activity is perfected — walking, riding a bike, swimming, playing an instrument? Or are we just so dominated by fear that we fail to attempt anything?
Fear is the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. Failing to live up to our parents’ expectations. Failure to achieve success that will feed our families and bring honor to ourselves. Failure to enjoy life to the fullest. Failure, failure, failure . . . at every turn. But! What if we don’t have to be committed to that? What if we trained ourselves in the discipline of wanting to be what God wants us to be? What if I personally worked on that more than anything else? What if failure then became a necessary byproduct of striving to obtain a grace that is more immense and forgiving than anything I’ve ever imagined?
The reading is over. The plates are cleared. My place is reset.
Daniel — one. Marcia — zero. The new guest master is winning and I’m glad. Berryville is working its magic even without a prayer request on file.
This is the second in a series of three meditations written at Holy Cross Abbey, Berryville, VA. This entry was written on Saturday, August 14, 2010.